Richland County Elects the President (not)

There are dozens of cities and counties and precincts around the country who all like to claim the title of Presidential Election Bellwether—indicating that any candidate who wants to take the White House will have to carry their specific ballot boxes in order to win.

The State of Ohio, in recent years, is proclaiming this title.

Just so you can be sure: Richland County is not such a place.  In the 49 Presidential elections that have taken place since Richland County was created, our voters have picked the winners exactly 28 times. 

That’s 57.14%.  Not the odds a candidate wants to bank on.

Yet often enough candidates for the highest office have come here hoping to carry Richland County.  In the last 100 years 16 presidential hopefuls, whose names were on the top of the ballot, came here to twist the arms of Richland voters.

Of those 16 candidates—representing both the Republican and Democratic parties—exactly 6 were subsequently sworn into office.  And only 3 of those were ones we voted for.

Republican candidate for President 1964 Barry Goldwater speaks on the Square.  (Senator Barry M. Goldwater Papers, Arizona State University Libraries)

The Trend

If there is one word that would characterize Richland’s presidential voting record it would be conservative.  Just how conservative is largely dependent on which candidates happened to be carrying the conservative banner at the time.

And just because the Republican Party happens to be the conservative’s choice today doesn’t mean it has always been that way.  Lincoln was a Republican.  We didn’t vote for him.

At the time of Lincoln it was the Democratic Party who embodied all of the conservative platforms.  Old Abe was actually quite liberal.  He was wanting to do away with slavery, which was a pretty radical stance.

A few years later when Grant ran on the Republican ticket, Richland overwhelmingly chose his opponent—Horatio Seymour—who was without question a card-carrying racist.

In fact all through the 1800s Richland turned its nose up at all the famously Ohio presidents, who all happened to be Republicans.  Those Ohioans—Harrison, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, McKinley and Taft—all got into office in spite of Richland County, Ohio.

Notable Exceptions

In 1920 Richland County did vote for a Republican from Ohio: Warren G. Harding.  He was actually born here—within the original borders of Richland County—so that undoubtedly helped. 

Plus he was pretty good looking, and 1920 was the first ever presidential election in US history when women could vote.  (Sexist as that may sound, this reasoning is actually standard dogma among historians of American politics.)

From the time of Harding on until now, Richland County has been aligned almost exclusively in the Republican column.

We did however, in 1932, vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt who was a Democrat, but just about everybody else in the nation did too.  There are occasions when the most conservative option is to go along with everybody else.

By the time FDR was running for a third term in office there was not quite such overwhelming enthusiasm for him around here.  He took Richland County, but it was not without a struggle.  I know this because I had the opportunity a few years ago to see the evidence first hand.

Exhibit A; 1-8

An old friend of mine passed away, and I was invited to go through her attic. She was a long time volunteer at the polls, as had been her husband, and both of their respective parents before them.  The attic was a veritable trove of political relics.

It was evident from the boxes of memorabilia, that the family been, for generations, lifelong proponents of the same political party.  The bumper stickers, tokens, rolled posters, newspaper clippings, postcards, lapel pins, earrings, and pin-back buttons all spoke eloquently of the family’s unity of purpose at the polls.

They voted as a bloc every year except one: 1940.  The year Roosevelt ran for a third term.

That was the only year when dissention split the ranks: when the Mr. and Mrs. effectively cancelled out each other’s vote.  The proof was found in their attic, attested by this political DNA:

Here is Richland’s full electoral scorecard:

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