YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — If you grew up in Youngstown, there are some things you think will always be true.
There will always be arguments about pizza. Fridays are for pierogies. Mill Creek Park is the best urban park in the country. Ted Bell is the greatest local high school football player to ever lace them up.
Another thing you could always count on is that Mahoning County would always vote Democratic, no matter what.
That changed last week, when incumbent Donald Trump bested former Vice President Joe Biden to be the first Republican presidential candidate to win the county since Richard Nixon won his second term in 1972.
Trump’s win was part of a red wave in the Mahoning Valley, seeing him capture reliable Columbiana County and Trumbull County for the second year in a row.
In what would once be described as unthinkable, unofficial results showed Trump won Mahoning County with 58,601 votes, besting Biden, who had 56,346 votes.
Although Trump lost the county in 2016 to Hillary Clinton, he actually increased his votes, as he garnered 53,616 votes in 2016, coming in second to Clinton’s 57,381 votes.
One place Trump lost rather handily this year, however, was Youngstown itself, where city residents handed him a loss of more than 10,000 votes, with Biden racking up 15,957 votes to Trump’s 5,507.
That trend also carried over to the congressional race, where incumbent Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, 13th District, cruised to victory in the city over Christina Hagan, 15,828 votes to 4,980 for her. Overall, Ryan carried the county, winning 47,525 to 35,680, en route to winning the race overall, although he did lose his home county of Trumbull.
In the presidential race, Trump did not win a single precinct of the 45 in the city. The closest he came was in precincts 5B and 5C, on the South Side, where he lost by 27 and 38 votes, respectively.
In the county, Biden also racked up wins in Campbell and Boardman, which he won by 228 votes. He did not win another locality, however, ceding the rest of the county to Trump.
Besides Youngstown, in his race, Ryan won Campbell, Struthers, Austintown, Boardman and Lowellville. Hagan won Coitsville, Jackson, Milton and Poland townships, Lowellville, Poland Village and Craig Beach Village. Parts of Mahoning County are in the district of Bill Johnson, R-Ohio 6th District, who won handily in his race for reelection.
Tom McCabe, chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party, said he was even slightly taken aback by the results. He said as recently as 10 years ago, he thought it would be hard for a Republican presidential candidate to win Mahoning County.
When citing candidates going all the way back to Ronald Reagan in 1980, he mentioned that incumbent George Bush in 1992 almost finished third in a three-way race with winner Bill Clinton and populist favorite H. Ross Perot.
But in fact, McCabe said, Perot’s performance was perhaps a foreshadowing of 2020, as his America-First and anti-NAFTA message struck a chord with the same kind of blue-collar voters who are credited with Trump’s performance here.
“It just tells you in 1992, those voters were here. The signs were here,” McCabe said.
Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, a Democrat, said he thinks the demographics of the county are changing, and that helped Trump to rack up a win.
McCabe also said a “realignment” of voters in the county was responsible for Trump’s win in Mahoning County. He said Trump is responsible for bringing those blue-collar-type voters into the Republican fold, who used to vote for Democrats. He expects them to continue voting Republican even after Trump is no longer in office because Trump’s message is the message of the Republican Party as a whole.
He said results in the county bear that out as voters voted a strong Republican ticket, including in the 59th District state representative seat, in which Al Cutrona easily won reelection to a seat first gained by Republicans two years ago by Don Manning, who later died in office. Cutrona was appointed to fill the seat.
“The 59th is solid red at this point,” McCabe said.
McCabe said he especially expects rural areas of the county, which tend to lean Republican anyway, to stay Republican for a long time to come.
Also, messaging from the left on topics such as defunding the police — which most Democrats say is a mislabeling for calls for police reform — or Medicare For All tend to turn off voters in this area, McCabe said. Although Biden has said repeatedly he does not support defunding police or Medicare For All, the slogans still stuck.
However, one place in the county where Democrats were not turned off was Youngstown. Brown said that the city’s large, minority population still sticks with Democrats, and that was still true this year. He said the Democrat’s message resonates with the minority community.
“The big thing you saw here is trust,” Brown said of minority voters in the city. “They trust the Democrats to have their best interests for the working class.”
U.S. Census population estimates from 2019 for Youngstown show that out of a population of 65,469, 42% of the population is Black and 11% is Hispanic. Those same statistics show that out of the county’s population of 228,683, 16.1% of the population is Black and 6.1% is Hispanic.
Of the two other communities that voted for Biden, only Campbell has a strong minority population, as 2019 census population estimates show a Black population of 23.9% and a Hispanic population of 16.1% out of a total population of 7,785.
An Associated Press survey nationally of Black voters found that nine out of 10 black voters supported Biden in the election. The AP also found that in cities with large Black populations, such as Detroit and Milwaukee, Biden increased on the 2016 totals of Clinton while Trump failed to match his votes in those large cities.
Although the counting is not done in Pennsylvania yet, the AP found that Biden received 93% of the votes in the city’s wards that have a Black population of over 75%.
McCabe acknowledged that Republicans have a long way to go in the city, but he said Republican votes are slowly increasing. He said in the past, it wasn’t uncommon for Republicans to log zero votes in some precincts, but now they are slowly climbing up with 40 votes here or 60 votes there in some precincts. He said he expects that to continue.
Republicans need to do a better job reaching out to city voters and attracting Republican candidates to run for city-wide offices, McCabe said.
“We can’t ignore the city,” McCabe said.
But some things can’t be measured by statistics. Brown said he thinks Trump’s popularity is due to his charisma and plainspokenness, much like former Congressman James A. Traficant Jr., who was beloved by several in the community no matter what he did, because he was never afraid to speak his mind no matter the topic.
“We miss that tough guy in DC,” Brown said.
The difference between the two, Brown said, is that Traficant never degraded anyone while Trump is liable to insult anyone at anytime on Twitter or other platforms.
“Traficant never demeaned anybody,” Brown said. “Everybody was welcome in his tent.”
As a blue city amid a red county, with a red state legislature and a U.S. Senator in Rob Portman who is also a Republican, Brown said he gets along good with members of the other party. He said his number-one priority is helping the citizens of Youngstown and he will work with anyone, no matter their political persuasion, who will help him in that endeavor.
When asked, though, what Republicans might do to increase their share of voters in the city, Brown laughed and declined to answer.
“They can figure that out on their own,” Brown said.
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