Ohio Democrats and Republicans say their bases are energized over August special election

A 'Yes' vote on Issue 1 would make it harder to amend Ohio's constitution ahead a vote on abortion rights in November.
Published: Jul. 16, 2023 at 6:59 PM EDT
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Watch interviews with both party chairs below on Action News Now

TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Seven months after Ohio lawmakers voted to eliminate August special elections, voters in the state are preparing for an August election. Republicans brought one back this year to get ahead of November’s expected vote on enshrining abortion rights into the constitution.

A ‘Yes’ vote on Issue 1 would make it harder for abortion to win in November and future citizen ballot initiatives raising the threshold needed to pass from a simple majority to 60 percent. It would also make the process to collect signatures to put an issue on the ballot more difficult.

Democrats say the timing has energized their base to defeat Issue 1.

“Listen this election is 100% about abortion,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters. “Rather than having a fair election about abortion rights in Ohio, Republicans are once again trying to rig the game.”

Ohioans gained the ability to lead citizens ballot initiatives to create laws in the constitution in 1913. Since then, 71 amendments have made it to the ballot. 19 have passed.

“It is a long-held tradition in this state, citizen-led ballot initiatives,” Walters said. “(Ohioans) won’t want to see changes made to that.”

Many Republicans’ public messaging has been centered around protecting the constitution from special interests and outside groups instead of abortion.

Outside money played a role in setting up this election when a GOP megadonor from Illinois funding a pressure campaign to urge skeptical statehouse Republicans to back the idea.

“(Abortion) is what the Democrats want to make it about. They think that’s a winning message for them. It’s not,” said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou.

He says the state party’s messaging is focusing more on protecting the constitution instead of abortion, but he recognizes that’s one benefit to the GOP of Issue 1.

“These extremist measures that the Democrats in this state have proposed would not be enshrined in our Constitution as easily,” he said.

Meanwhile the Ohio GOP is ramping public messaging campaigns about early voting to try and increase turnout and convince some skeptics that “It’s OK to vote that way.”

“The Democrats have done a better job of corralling the early vote,” Triantafilou said. “There’s been some pushback from people who just like to do it on Election Day. Some people are just traditionalists. We remind them that the Democrats are beating us in this area and we should do better.”

Pro-life groups are running ads trying to convince voters to say YES to issue 1 to make it harder for the abortion amendment to pass later this year.

Groups against Issue 1 have been on the airwaves for weeks outspending groups in favor of the amendment. Triantafilou says he believes Republicans have had a strong grassroots campaign but expects to see more advertising as the election approaches.

“We know we have work to do,” Triantafilou said. “As Republicans, we’re going to keep doing that work, Our base is energized about this. I’m not entirely sure whether the Democrat base is - I don’t think they are. I think some of what you’re seeing from them is manufactured.”

But Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters says Democrats are unified around defeating Issue 1 and turning out to vote in August.

“What this is really doing is uniting Ohioans who want a better future for our state, to get involved and to make their voices heard,” Walters said. “You’re just going to see that continue to grow throughout the year.”

Leaders from the Ohio Democratic and Republican parties discuss their strategies for the August special election ahead of November's vote on abortion rights.

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