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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

How Ohio Is Gearing Up for a Tense Election Day

After months of tough talk and literal manure, the midwestern swing state is gearing up to once again be the center of the political world.

by Stan Donaldson
Nov 8 2016, 5:00am

Tracey Winbush, vice chair of the Mahoning County Republican Party. Photo by the author

Once again, Ohio is the center of the political universe. The perpetual swing state that decided the 2004 election could also serve an outsize role in 2016—it's a must win for Donald Trump, and a potential ingredient in a Hillary Clinton landslide. Most polls have Trump ahead, but it's close, and both candidates have been hitting the state hard and using A-list surrogates; as the campaign winds down, Clinton was in Cleveland with none other than LeBron James.

Just driving around gives you the sense that you're in the middle of a political battlefield. Campaign signs are posted in front of homes in affluent suburbs and working-class neighborhoods, inside empty lots, next to abandoned homes, and on street corners in crime-ridden areas.

Along with the ordinary name-calling and mud-slinging that comes with any election, this campaign has produced plenty of dark accusations, as well as actual violence. Trump has repeatedly called the election "rigged." A Republican field office in North Carolina was firebombed last month. Days later, a Democratic headquarters near Cincinnati had a giant pile of manure dumped outside of it by a self-described "hardcore" Republican. A Clinton rally featuring Jay-Z and Beyoncé last week was disrupted by a bomb threat.

But in northeast Ohio, the blue-collar and left-leaning section of the state that includes Cleveland, many voters believe the talk of intimidation and violence is just that: talk.

"Nationwide, I feel concerned about some violence from some Trump supporters... maybe a few fights here and there, but I don't think it will be apocalyptic," said Alfred Porter, president of Black on Black Crime Inc., a local community organization that focuses on social justice and anti-violence initiatives in the Cleveland area.

"Look, elections are emotional for people because they want the candidate they support to win," Porter added. "Cleveland has had some contentious times with the 137 shots and Tamir Rice cases. We even had the Republican convention here, and it was peaceful. I think any revolt or revolution will happen at the polls when people vote."

Other voters in Cuyahoga County who I spoke to were similarly unconcerned about potential violent clashes at the polls. But they did say that the negative tone of the campaign was taking a toll, and worried about some aspects of the process.

"I wasn't asked for my identification one time [while voting early]... and that bothers me," said Les Carrender, 47, of Olmstead Township. "I'm not saying there is a bunch of fraud out there going on, but I do think it is important for people to monitor the process."

Pat Thompson, 69, of Cleveland, is a Clinton supporter who went to vote early because she didn't want to wait in long lines on Tuesday. She's confident there won't be any violence, and definitely not from her side.

"I don't think it will happen," Thompson said. "We have some serious issues in this country, but I don't think we're going back to the days of Jim Crow. If anything were to happen, even if the Democrats lose, I think it will be isolated and come from Trump's people."

Ronnie Dunn, a professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University, said some of Trump's language at stump speeches has been divisive, and basically agrees with Thompson. "I don't think widespread violence will be manifested," Dunn told me. "We may have some overaggressive supporters, and I think they will come from the Trump side."

Tom McCabe is the deputy director for the Mahoning County Board of Elections, an area 70 miles southeast of Cuyahoga that usually goes Democrat but may switch over to Trump this time. Since the primary, the number of registered Republican voters has jumped from 19,000 to more than 36,000, with roughly 6,000 voters changing their party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, according to McCabe. He said though the political rhetoric has been toxic, things at the board of elections have been relatively peaceful.

Rick Suarez, 59, of Struthers, a town in Mahoning, has been a poll worker for five elections. He said Trump and Clinton supporters have been on their best behavior. "There hasn't been any talk of violence," Suarez told me. "No issues have come up at all, and everyone has been very cooperative."

Just as Clinton supporters worry about violence from the Trump camp, many Trump backers believe the stories about post-election violence are ginned up by the media to help Clinton get elected.

"People will be mad because they lost, but most people interested in this race are too old to fight," said Tracey Winbush, vice chair of the Mahoning County Republican Party. Winbush, who is African American, is a Trump supporter.

"The sensationalism of what some people would like to see and what is are two different things," Winbush said. "No one from our campaign is trying to go to jail or get hurt. That is just media hype."

As for the high-profile events with Jay Z and Beyoncé, Winbush dismissed them as a stunt that masked Clinton's problems. "This is a sign that she is struggling to get votes from minorities and millennials," Winbush said. "She is doing this to get out the black vote. African Americans will come to your house, eat your chicken, and even drink up all your beer, but that doesn't mean that we will vote for you.

"I know a lot of African Americans who say they will not vote for her. This is a sign that she is desperate and is losing in this state."

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