A letter from a battleground state

Jeff vonKaenel

The 2020 presidential election is now less than one year away. And I know who I will not be voting for (his name rhymes with dump). But who should I vote for? I’m struggling with that.

And living in deep blue California, I don’t have a sense of what voters are thinking in the important swing states. Polls show nearly all Democratic candidates soundly beating President Trump nationwide, but struggling in the battleground states that could decide who wins the Electoral College.

So I am curious what people are thinking in those pivotal states, especially in areas that supported both Barack Obama and Trump. They are the swing voters who may decide this election.

A long time ago, I lived in Vermilion, Ohio, a very small town 50 miles west of Cleveland, next to Lake Erie. My dad was one of the three doctors in town. They all worked on Saturdays and set their schedules around each other. Wanting to get a Vermilion perspective on the election, I wrote the following letter to my childhood friend, Henry Kishman, whom I not had spoken to in 55 years.


I hope that you remember me. We went to elementary and junior high school together until my family moved to California in 1964. One of my fondest childhood memories is spending the night at your house and getting up early in the morning to go milk the cows at your family’s dairy farm.

I also thought you were one of my smartest classmates, so I was not surprised that that you became a lawyer. I know it has been a long time, nevertheless, I have a favor to ask you.

You live in Ohio, in one of the counties that voted for Obama as well as Trump. So which of the Democratic presidential candidates do you think would most appeal to Vermilion Obama-Trump voters?

He replied:

Hello Jeff,

It was great to hear from you again after all these years. I have fond recollections of your father and his care and concern for his patients. He was one of the last of the old school doctors. I remember him coming to our home to make house calls. The science may have progressed in the medical field but the care of patients and attending to them as individuals has certainly deteriorated.

But on to the question which you asked about the electability of a Democratic candidate. Ohio is trending conservative. In this area, with it still having a strong union presence and a fairly substantial minority community, I would say that Joe Biden or a more centrist type of Democrat would probably stand the best chance. I doubt that someone like an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders would do very well. The basic profile of a white Democrat in this area is more of a Hubert Humphrey-Henry Jackson type of Democrat. I think a very significant number voted for Donald Trump and likely will vote for him again, although they would probably not admit to it.

I do not believe that a Democrat too far to the left would do very well in Ohio. The state is just becoming too conservative. Some of the familiar names, such as [Ohio Sen.] Sherrod Brown, still do well, but I believe it is largely due to name recognition

Again, it was great to hear from you. I wish you the best.


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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.