Remember Ohio? It was the swing state that gave George W Bush his
narrow victory in last year’s presidential election. Now it’s been the
scene of a fresh electoral test for the administration, and they won’t
be happy with the result.
In a by-election for Ohio’s second congressional district held this
week, the Democrats scored a swing of 20%, almost winning what had been
a very safe Republican seat.

Last year the six-term Republican incumbent was re-elected with 71.8%
of the vote, but he resigned recently to take up a post of US trade
representative. His successor, Jean Schmidt, scraped in with 51.6%
against her Democrat challenger, Paul Hackett, an Iraqi war veteran who
campaigned hard against Bush’s war policy. It looks as if anti-war
sentiment might finally be starting to bite.

But there are two reasons why this is not quite such good news for the
Democrats as it might seem. First, the turnout was way down – less than
40% of last year’s figure – which makes it risky to draw any general
lessons. Second, the power of incumbents in the American system is so
great that it’s not that unusual to get big swings when one of them
finally retires. Even so, Bush scored 64% in the presidential vote in
the second district last year, and since the Democrats only need a
uniform swing of 1.3% to win Ohio – and therefore the presidency –
they’re entitled to be pleased with this week’s result.

Peter Fray

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