Did Ohio just ruin 2016 for Democrats?
Democrats haven't talked much about Ohio this election cycle. But Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine, said wins for Ohio Governor John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Attorney General Mike DeWine, and Auditor Dave Yost have will have "big implications" for the party's chances of electing the next president.
Worst news for Dems of the night? The collapse of the Ohio bench. Big implications for 2016.— Rick Hasen (@rickhasen) November 5, 2014
If a close vote in the 2016 race requires interpretations of Ohio election law (and this wouldn't be at all unheard of — just think the contested election of 2004), Tuesday's results will place important decisions and legal interpretation in the hands of Republican officials, in a way that could benefit a Republican presidential nominee in the key swing state, Hasen told Vox.
"Just in terms of administering the election, having a Republican Secretary of State who was just easily reelected, and having a Republican Supreme Court will make it harder for Democrats when there are those contested questions about how the election should be run," he said.
He said he was particularly worried about the potential reelection of state Supreme Court Justice Judith L. French (who was leading her race at the time of publication). French has campaigned on the promise that she'll uphold the actions of Republican elected officials. At an October 28 event, French told a crowd:
"I am a Republican and you should vote for me. You're going to hear from your elected officials, and I see a lot of them in the crowd. Let me tell you something: The Ohio Supreme Court is the backstop for all those other votes you are going to cast. Whatever the governor does, whatever your state representative, your state senator does, whatever they do, we are the ones that will decide whether it is constitutional; we decide whether it's lawful. We decide what it means, and we decide how to implement it in a given case. So, forget all those other votes if you don't keep the Ohio Supreme Court conservative."
This stance hints at how the court , led by French, could influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Ohio, and thus the entire country, Hasen said. "In a close election where there are questions of what election statues and laws mean, sometimes these get resolved by the state Supreme Court, so having a state Supreme Court on your side could potentially make a difference."
That, he said, is on top of "the coattails issue" — the well-known benefits of a candidate running for president enjoys in states in which top officials share his or her party. No Democratic leaders at the top means the Democratic nominee won't be able to rely on the infrastructure or enthusiasm of state leaders and organizations. That means no help bringing out crowds and getting people exited about voting. And of course, anything that makes it harder for Democrats to win Ohio also makes it harder for Democrats to win the presidency.