CLEVELAND—Outside a Bernie Sanders rally here last week, thousands of supporters of the Vermont senator waited eagerly to see their candidate speak. Sanders staffers walked up and down the line, asking rally-goers to sign their petition to get onto the Ohio ballot next spring.
Also working the crowds were 75 staffers and volunteers with the Ohio Democratic Party with a different mission: They gathered more than 1,200 “commit to vote” cards for next fall’s general election over the course of the night.
Ohio Democrats face the same recent problem heading into 2016 that Democrats across the country do: They win in presidential years but lose badly in midterms. Their voters show up in droves every four years for Democratic presidential candidates but stay home for the off-year elections in between. And because this is Ohio, it matters—a lot.
But with just under a year to go until Election Day, the state party is plotting its comeback, with two dozen field staffers already in place for 2016 and a plan to build up the party bench so it’s more prepared for the 2018 midterms. Some Democrats in the state are skeptical of its eventual success—but many say the party is at the very least talking about its challenges in the right way.