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Polls: Democrats have a good shot at turning Ohio blue again in 2018

Richard Cordray has a surprising lead over Mike DeWine in the gubernatorial contest.

Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Democrats should feel great about Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown’s chances of winning reelection in November and pretty darn good about their odds of retaking the governor’s mansion, according to two new polls on the Buckeye State’s marquee 2018 elections.

Quinnipiac University and Suffolk University (for the Cincinnati Enquirer) released back-to-back surveys on the Senate campaign between Brown and Republican Jim Renacci and the governor’s contest between Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray.

Brown, a popular two-term incumbent, should already be viewed as the favorite, but both polls showed him running far ahead of Renacci:

  • Quinnipiac: Brown leads Renacci, 51 percent to 34 percent
  • Suffolk: Brown is again way ahead of Renacci, 53 percent to 36 percent

(The Quinnipiac poll’s margin of error is 4.4 percentage points; the Suffolk poll’s is 3.7 points.)

Brown leading wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but his margin might be: Cook Political Report rates the Ohio Senate race as merely Lean Democrat.

Even more startling than the Senate results was what polls found in the Ohio governor’s race, where DeWine (a former US senator and state attorney general) and Cordray (former state attorney general and Obama consumer watchdog) are running to replace Gov. John Kasich.

DeWine had been considered the slight favorite in a state that has been trending red, with no statewide elected Democrats except Brown, and where Donald Trump won by 8 points in 2016. But both surveys actually found Cordray ahead:

  • Quinnipiac: Cordray narrowly led DeWine 42 percent to 40 percent
  • Suffolk: Cordray had a bigger lead over DeWine, 43 percent to 36 percent

All of these results come with plenty of caveats. It’s only June. There are a lot of undecided voters and, particularly in the Suffolk poll, a lot of those undecided voters were Republican. Renacci is still building up his statewide name recognition for the Senate race. A March poll had found DeWine up 8 points in the governor’s campaign.

But the findings were striking enough that after their release, the University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball said it was shifting the Ohio governor’s race from Lean Republican to Toss-Up and the Senate race from Lean Democrat to Likely Democrat.

Kyle Kondik, part of the University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball team, told me previously that the 2018 elections would be a test of whether Democrats could continue to compete in statewide Ohio races or whether the state was going to turn permanently red. At least at this point in the summer, things are looking good for Democrats.