Ohio fishing Records Port Clinton
PORT CLINTON, Ohio - Every few minutes, the glass door of the Ottawa County Republicans' storefront office would swing open to admit a blast of humid air and another supplicant.
Word had gone forth: Headquarters had a new shipment.
"We just got a bunch, and were we ever tickled, " Carolyn Adams, the county chairwoman, said one afternoon last week. "The first time, they only sent us 50, and they were gone in less than 24 hours. People were desperate."
Now she could meet the demand for Donald Trump yard signs, and it was steady - one street-level indicator that the real estate developer has pulled ahead of Hillary Clinton in Ohio. He was leading in the most contested battleground state by an average of 2 percentage points in recent polls.
Over the last 30 elections, Ohio's vote for president has more closely reflected the national voting average than any other state, and it went with the winner every four years from 1964 to 2012, according to elections scholar Kyle Kondik's The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President.
And Ottawa County, along the Lake Erie shoreline southeast of Toledo, is the only one of Ohio's 88 counties to always match the winner-picking streak, from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama.
Politically, it's "pretty closely divided, " Adams said. "It's a microcosm of Ohio in a lot of ways."
The county has a population of 41, 000, nearly all white, and fewer college graduates than the national average. Its median household income of about $54, 000 is right in the middle of the distribution curve.
The county has prosperous farms, with marinas and a string of resort towns that are thronged in the summer. (Port Clinton, the county seat, bills itself as the walleye-fishing capital of the world.) A number of manufacturers, including Standard Products, which made rubber goods for the auto industry and the military, and a large Uniroyal tire factory have closed in recent decades, and the mom-and-pop businesses in places like downtown Port Clinton are fighting to hang on amid competition from big-box stores.
Trump has found a receptive audience here, though most area political people figure that the election will be close in Ottawa County.
"People are tired of career politicians telling you what you want to hear and then following their own agendas when they get in there, " said Hugh Wheeler, the independent mayor of Port Clinton, who knocked out a longtime Democratic incumbent last year by a 2-1 ratio. He backs Trump.
"He's not a career politician, first of all, and he tells you what's on his mind, like people should, " said Wheeler, a former firefighter who calls himself a "blue-collar guy." He said he ran for mayor because he was fed up with political infighting in town that he believed was holding up needed improvements, such as a lighthouse restoration designed to draw more tourists to the old port.
At first, Ohio figured to be a tough slog for Trump. Gov. John Kasich, a rival for the GOP nomination, loathes the real estate mogul, stayed away from the national convention in Cleveland, and still will not endorse him. Kasich has said he believes Trump is divisive.
In the March 15 Ohio primary, Kasich beat Trump, showing particular strength in the suburbs and exurbs of the state's large cities, where Republicans have to clean up to carry the state. Now center-right voters in these areas and in more rural counties like Ottawa are moving on, coalescing around Trump out of a desire to stop Clinton, party strategists and activists say.
"They want to win and beat Hillary, " said Lucas County GOP Chairman Jon Stainbrook, who was a Kasich delegate to the national convention. He is loyal to the governor but said he was fully behind Trump, who held a rally in Toledo last week with more than 2, 000 fired-up northwest Ohio fans.
"People are sick of the way things are, " Stainbrook said. "They think the fix is in and want something new, and Hillary is the same old, same old. . . . Trump says what needs to be said. Yeah, he's rough around the edges, but people like the feel and the sound of that."
Democrats acknowledge that Trump has made gains in Ohio as the opposition unifies, but they're not ready to concede either. Clinton is due in the state next week after an absence of several weeks, though she has had surrogates stumping for her.
"I'm having déjà vu. At this point in 2012, Mitt Romney was polling slightly ahead in Ohio and there was a lot of panic, but it didn't happen; President Obama won, " said Chris Redfern of Ottawa County, a former state Democratic Party chairman. "We are where we often are, but all is not lost. There are six weeks of the campaign left."
Redfern, who was credited with helping build the ground game that won Ohio twice for Obama, said he thought that Trump would suffer from a weak debate performance Monday and that his recent advantage may slip away.
"You'll see a shift toward Hillary Clinton, especially among middle-class college-educated white women, long a Republican bastion, " Redfern said, adding that he thinks Trump has alienated too many people with bigoted and sexist remarks to appeal to moderates.
Yet he said that the "working-class wave" for Trump is real and would make for a tough race.
Consider Charles Tucker, a Toledo roofer wearing a "Deplorables" T-shirt at the Trump rally. A loyal Republican, he has backed the mogul from the beginning because voting for "half-measures" like Romney is no longer enough to stop the country's decline, he said.
"He's not afraid to stand up for us, " said Tucker, 41, adding that Trump-skeptical Republicans need to get on board. "He's way better than Hillary. If you're not voting for Trump for any other reason, that's enough."