Election 2024: How Democrats Could Get Their Swing Back

Duke Ellington Big Band, Munich 1963. Photo by Hans Bernhard. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Duke Ellington Big Band, Munich 1963. Photo by Hans Bernhard. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“It don’t mean a thing,” Duke Ellington and Irving Mills informed us in 1931, “if it ain’t got that swing.”

Does Ohio still have that swing?

Over the last few years some, including University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven, have cast doubt on the state’s long-held “swing state” or “belwether” status in national elections — but presidential polling, combined with the results of the November 7 election, show that the Buckeye State could be as relevant as ever when it comes to discerning national political trends.

Recent New York Times and Siena College polls show former president Donald Trump leading incumbent Joe Biden in five of six non-Ohio “swing” states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennslyvania — all of which Trump carried in 2016 but lost in 2020 — with Biden ahead only in Wisconsin. But those same polls also predict a large shift in Biden’s direction if Trump is convicted in some or all of his currently pending criminal cases.

Meanwhile, the most recent Ohio poll noted at RealClearPolitics, from early October, has Trump up on Biden by 12 points. Not a lot of “swing” vibe there.

On the other hand, on November 7, Ohio’s voters defied the Republican Party’s positions on major issues, enshrining  abortion rights in the state’s constitution and legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

It’s not just Ohio moving in those directions. As the Libertarian Policy Institute’s Nicholas Sarwark notes, “[e]lection results across the country show a clear demand for broadly libertarian policies and candidates.”

Neither of the likely “major party” presidential nominees seem especially well-suited to exploit what looks like a potential “libertarian moment” (as Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie might put it). Nor does the Republican field of also-rans.

On the Democratic side, however, there may be room for movement … if Joe Biden retires from the race and endorses a better candidate.

Three names come to mind: Jared Polis of Colorado, Laura Kelly of Kansas, and Andy Beshear of Kentucky. All three are Democratic governors who’ve proven they can beat Republicans in red (Kansas and Kentucky) or “purple” (Colorado) states, both for election to office and on the “individal freedom” side of policy issues like abortion and marijuana.

I’m not personally endorsing, nor do I expect to vote for, any of them (or for Biden or Trump). But if  the Democrats want to win America’s swing states, those are the hard choices involved in getting competitive. And the clock is ticking.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.