(CN) – Despite a significant narrowing of the field following Super Tuesday, Ohio’s March 17 primary has retained its importance as a vital step to the Democratic presidential nomination.
Former Vice President Joe Biden cemented his position ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders following the latest round of state primary elections, and next Tuesday’s open primary in the Buckeye State could give him an insurmountable lead heading into the Democratic National Convention in July.
Biden secured victories Tuesday night in Idaho, Missouri, and Mississippi, while also claiming the pivotal battleground state of Michigan by a wide margin.
Sanders made no statement to the media regarding the future of his campaign after the disastrous results, but he faces an uphill battle to cut into Biden’s delegate advantage.
A Baldwin Wallace University poll conducted in late January gave the surging Biden a comfortable 11-point lead over Sanders in Ohio, where the progressive candidate has struggled to gain a foothold.
Courthouse News spoke with Kathryn Lavelle, a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who said Biden’s lead in Ohio is not surprising.
“Ohio was always going to be a more fundamentally centrist state to begin with,” Lavelle said, pointing to the popularity of former Republican Governor John Kasich as an indicator that the state’s voters are “not real ideologues.”
Lavelle mentioned the importance of Ohio’s open primary setup, which allows residents to declare their party allegiance when they show up to cast their vote and often leads to large swings of voters between both parties.
“The fact of it is,” Lavelle said, “because there is effectively no Republican primary being held, there’s no reason for a moderate Republican not to vote in the [Democratic] primary.”
The numbers of Republicans who vote in the Democratic primary, or vice versa, are not insignificant, according to Lavelle, who cited data that more than 2 million Ohio voters switched parties during the 2016 presidential primaries.
Now that the race has narrowed to Biden and Sanders, the professor says moderate Republicans who want to see Trump ousted from office and choose to vote in the Democratic primary could play a large part in sealing a victory for Biden, the establishment candidate.
Health care remains a central issue across the country, and while Sanders has energized the more liberal portions of the Democratic Party with his vision of a single-payer system, Lavelle believes some Ohioans won’t buy into the concept.
“For the most part,” she said, “I find [when] talking to people about politics in Ohio, we tend to skew towards the middle, and people are generally interested in policies.”
She mentioned the large medical research complexes located throughout the state, including Case Western’s medical school, the Cleveland VA clinic, and the research facilities at Ohio State University in Columbus as portions of the biotechnology field that would suffer greatly if the private health care industry was eliminated.
“This was gonna be a tough state to sell Medicare for All,” Lavelle said. “Not just because ideologically it’s a problem, but because Ohioans are going to ask tough questions.”
She added, “They’re going to really want to know something about the nuts and bolts … because there’s a lot of knowledgeable people here about health insurance and the health care industry.”
The continued spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has already affected next week’s primary, as both Biden and Sanders canceled events scheduled in Cleveland for Tuesday night.
Ohio has also made last-minute changes to polling places, and has shifted their locations away from senior citizens’ homes to reduce the threat to the elderly.
While the coronavirus may keep some Ohio residents from voting in the primary, Lavelle said she expects older voters to have already requested absentee ballots. Numbers from Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office seems to support that conclusion, with over 250,000 absentee ballots having already been requested across the state.