Frustration and quiet despair: Ohio on primary day

© Nebojsa Malic
Five states held their primary elections Tuesday, with Donald Trump steamrolling Marco Rubio out of the race and Hillary Clinton expanding her lead over Bernie Sanders. And then there was Ohio, leading its governor to believe he could win the White House.

An economic powerhouse that boasted a variety of industries a century ago, Ohio has sunk into what the rest of the country calls the “Rust Belt” – a neglected, decaying stretch of the northern US along the Great Lakes, where the once-great factories and warehouses slowly rot away.

Politically, however, Ohio is a prize: it has correctly sided with the victorious candidate in every US presidential election since 1960, and has only been wrong twice since 1904. It is also the first state in this year’s campaign to give all of its 66 Republican delegates to the winner, rather than divvying them up proportionally.

I was in Cleveland on Tuesday, covering the primary for RT America on Twitter and Facebook, just like in Georgia two weeks prior. In both places, I found the people generally cordial. But whereas in Atlanta people seemed energized about their future, in Ohio I got a sense of resignation and quiet despair.

At the polling stations I visited there were no lines, just a steady trickle of voters. By 4:30pm local time, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections reported an 18 percent turnout and urged people to vote after work.

“There is wall to wall national coverage of the election and the importance of Ohio results,” board director Pat McDonald said in a statement. “Please make your voice heard.”

The turnout ended up being 57 percent for the Democrats and 41 percent for the Republicans. It had been higher in the suburbs, the board statement said.

With the Democrats still dividing their delegates proportionally, the Republican race was far more important for the final nomination fight. Ohio and Florida were the first states in this campaign season to award all of their delegates to the winner – 66 and 99, respectively. The GOP establishment was hoping that Governor John Kasich could win Ohio, while Senator Rubio could get Florida, slowing down the seemingly unstoppable Trump.

Trump easily dispatched Rubio in Florida, winning the state's 99 delegates and knocking the junior senator out of the race entirely. He also won majorities in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina. The sole exception was Ohio, where Kasich edged Trump out by 230,000 votes statewide.

READ MORE 5 State Primary: Trump & Clinton lead on Super Tuesday with 3 wins each

In a victory speech that evening, the governor maintained he could win the White House come November. That is a mathematical impossibility – he would need 116 percent of the remaining delegates – as well as a procedural one, since the GOP rules require a candidate to win eight states to even be on the convention ballot, and Kasich has only won one so far. How could the former congressman and Lehman Brothers executive be so remarkably out of touch?

Perhaps because he hasn't walked the streets of northeastern Cleveland in a while. In the crumbling St. Vitus Parish, some businesses still bear the names of Slavic immigrants that founded them, but the place had the feeling of abandoned parts of Detroit. Block after block of shuttered factories and warehouses, dilapidated businesses, cracked and broken pavement, and despair that was almost palpable: that’s what I saw in Cleveland.

Another neighborhood, predominantly African American, had litter piling up along the chain-link fences surrounding boarded-up buildings. Hillary Clinton signs lined the street, though someone had destroyed a couple of them and just left them there. A shiny new county building just around the corner was a jarring reminder that some in Cleveland had it better than others.

The Democratic Party machinery delivered Ohio for Clinton, mind you. She beat Sanders by some 160,000 votes and got 79 delegates to his 62. Looking at just the “winners,” one might think that Ohioans are happy with the way things are. Yet over 1.2 million voters in the state backed the anti-establishment candidates, whether the blustery billionaire businessman from New York or the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” from Vermont.

Though losing to Clinton throughout the evening, Sanders supporters were not giving up. There was a certain energy in their camp, driven by ideas championed by the Vermont senator rather than his personality – the very opposite to the feeling I got from Clinton supporters.

On the Republican side, the “Trump Train” barely noticed the Ohio speed bump, continuing to gather steam as Rubio crashed and burned. The GOP establishment is now desperately speculating about a brokered convention in July. It is to be held in Cleveland, surrounded by the crumbling reminders of why so many Americans are fed up with the politics as usual and tempted to listen to Trump’s promise of “making America great again.”

Nebojsa Malic, for RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.