Is Ohio less important in this year’s election?

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally in Canton, Ohio, U.S., September 14, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar - RTSNSRV

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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: When it comes to the race for the White House, Ohio has always been a bellwether. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. No Democrat since John F. Kennedy has become president without winning Ohio.

But this year, the stakes may not be as high. To help us understand why, I’m joined from Washington by “New York Times” reporter Jonathan Martin.

Jonathan, there was — I remember a documentary back in 2006, you know, chronicling “as goes Ohio, so goes the nation.” What’s happening this year? Why is this different?

JONATHAN MARTIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It’s different because of two big factors. Number one is the sort of changing nature of the Democratic Party. It is now built on a coalition that includes less working class white voters and more what’s been called a coalition of the ascendant — younger voters, non-white voters, female voters and it’s more — it’s more affluent now.

And Ohio is a traditional Rust Belt state. And that’s the other piece of it. The demographics of Ohio are more forbidding for Democrats given their current nature today. So, if you’re Hillary Clinton, you’re going to compete in Ohio — she’s not going to pull out of there. In fact, she’s going back next week. But it’s not essential.

So, it’s just not the sort of quintessential battleground state it has been in years passed because the bottom line is she doesn’t need it to get the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And Donald Trump has also started campaigning as one of his main platforms that he always hits at the campaign speeches is trade, and that was traditionally something you used to hear from labor and the left.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Right. And that’s sort of tied to the demographic piece of this story is that Ohio, because it’s more of a — you know, white, blue-collar state, is very, you know, easy to go in there if you’re a Republican and run on the trade issue. Look, Mitt Romney four years ago, sort of a classic Chamber of Commerce Republican, had a difficult time making inroads in some of those communities like Youngstown, Warren, Toledo, the kind of traditional heartlands of the state.

Here you’ve got Trump who is going in there running to the left of AFL/CIO on trade, and also, you know, hammering the immigration issue. And the combination of those issues in communities like Youngstown and Warren is very powerful. And it gives traditional Democrats there cover to vote for the Republican.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And as you mentioned, it’s not nearly as representative of the rest of the country, and that’s a much longer term change.

JONATHAN MARTIN:  That’s exactly right. You know, the country is becoming less white. And, obviously, there’s a certain baseline of education levels in this country. In Ohio, it’s whiter and it’s less educated than the country at large. So, it doesn’t quite reflect the America of 2016.

This is something, by the way, that Ohio political veterans, they don’t deny this. It’s not easy because they have gotten use to basking in the political spotlight every four years, but they’re cognizant of the fact that Ohio is not, you know, the sort of same reflection of the country that it was 30 years ago.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. National political correspondent for “The New York Times,” Jonathan Martin, joining us from Washington today — thanks so much.

JONATHAN MARTIN:  Thank you.

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