Ohio is the Republican party’s last chance to stop the Trump juggernaut

Trump after a dramatic entrance in Youngstown.
Trump after a dramatic entrance in Youngstown.
Image: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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Youngstown, Ohio

The huge metal door cranked slowly open, and there it was—the insectoid face of John Kasich’s campaign bus, backlit by an overcast morning sky. As its windshield lights flashed in seizure-inducing rhythm to U2’s “Beautiful Day,” the bus inched onto the factory floor of Brilex Industries, a metal parts manufacturing plant in Youngstown, Ohio. Out bounded the governor—in his characteristically limber but slightly hunchbacked form—to address a hundred or so politely clapping supporters in folding wooden chairs.

The next Youngstown entrance was less indie sci-fi, more action epic. And though Kasich’s main competitor in Ohio, Donald Trump, had only scheduled the visit to the area on Sunday night—scrapping the long-planned rally in Doral, Florida—everything fell into place. With the ease of a costume change, the morning’s damp gloom gave way to cloud-strewn blue as people lined up outside a Youngstown area airport hangar. And if Trump’s planners had paused to worry whether they could draw a respectable-enough crowd on extremely short notice in the heart of Ohio’s Democrat-heavy industrial northeast, they needn’t have. By the time Trump made his descent—flying in from a rally in Tampa with Sarah Palin—many thousands of people had packed into the hangar. At last, the opening strains of the Air Force One theme throbbed through the hangar and the audience cooed as his private jet—”TRUMP” emblazoned on the side—nosed into view. A staircase rolled up. The cabin door heaved open. Then Chris Christie and Trump emerged from a hole next to the “T,” awash in the sunset’s pink glow and the din of a hero’s welcome.

While yesterday was a day for carefully staged entrances, today is all about exits. Or, more precisely, Kasich’s exit from the race for the Republican nomination—whether the curtains will finally fall today.

Of course, there’s more at stake than that. The fate of the Republican nomination—and, for that matter, possibly the party itself—very likely depends on what Ohio voters do today. Without winning the state—which awards its 66 delegates on a winner-take-all basis—Donald Trump will almost certainly lack the delegates needed to avoid a contested election, according to FiveThirtyEight. With the twilight of Marco Rubio’s prospects in Florida, we go into primary voting today with Kasich the only mainstream Republican candidate able to stop the Trump juggernaut.

It’s hard to guess how it will turn out. Kasich has come out slightly on top in two polls this week. However, it’s possible that polls aren’t counting a swath of voters inclined to plump for Trump: the disgruntled blue-collar Democrats of the type that milled around the edges of the Brilex factory floor. That breed abounds in Ohio’s northeast counties that are home to Youngstown, Akron, Canton, and other industrial hubs. As Quartz recently reported, Mahoning County’s Democratic Party chair expects 10-20% of Democrats to vote for Trump.

The lower estimate jibes with what Ryan, a 35-year-old Kasich supporter who asked that his last name not be used, has seen among his Democrat coworkers at the metal-casting facility, where he works as a manager.

“Even at a plant that’s unionized, there’s a lot more voting [for Trump among] people who are normally Democrats than you might think,” Ryan told Quartz. He doesn’t agree with Trump’s proposal to build a $10 billion wall on the US’s Mexican border, and thinks illegal immigrants provide a crucial source of labor for jobs that American workers won’t do. However, thanks to Youngstown’s chronically depressed economy, rebukes of immigration and free trade—the twin pillars of Trump’s campaign—play well here.

That could offer Trump an extra bump of a few hundred or maybe even thousand votes—potentially important in a race that Mitt Romney won by just over 10,000 votes in 2012. The bigger factor, of course, will be turnout.

The candidates rely on radically different strategies for turning out their voters. Those who sign up to attend Trump events encounter little of the typical campaign efforts to rope in supporters to staff phone bank and otherwise get out the vote on election day. The lone staffer working the line at the Youngstown airport in search of volunteers had few takers. By comparison, the Ohio governor’s more traditional approach to mobilizing volunteers to get voters to the polls should be a big advantage, the vice-chair of Mahoning County’s Republican Party tells Quartz.

“[Trump] has no ground game,” says Tracey Winbush, who also sits on the Ohio Republican Party’s state central committee. “He just has the media and his big mouth.”

That, and a really great entrance.