By Marty Schladen – November 9, 2020 (Ohio Capital Journal)
Some, but not all, Ohio Republican officials on Monday appeared to be distancing themselves from Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the Nov. 3 election is being stolen from him.
Trump racked up early leads — particularly in some battleground states where Republican lawmakers refused to allow early processing of mail-in votes. A massive portion of the electorate was expected to take advantage of mail-in voting because of the coronavirus pandemic and some states, such as Ohio, were ready to start processing them weeks before Election Day.
Also, Trump for months has been discouraging his supporters from voting by mail. So it was widely expected in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that most of the early results to come in would be from Election Day voting and would heavily favor Trump. Those would be followed by mail-in ballots heavily favoring former Vice President Joe Biden and would take days to count.
That’s just what happened, and by late Saturday morning all major U.S. news organizations judged that Biden had built an insurmountable lead in Pennsylvania and projected him to be the winner of the election.
By Monday afternoon Trump’s allies were talking about legal challenges to the vote in several states, but the Washington Post reported that there appeared to be no central strategy. Meanwhile, many others called on Trump to stop undermining the public faith in the electoral process and concede.
“We all knew the counting process was going to take longer than usual this year because of the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and higher voter turnout,” U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, said over the weekend. “Counting votes and making sure every voice is heard is not fraud — it’s democracy at work. The President’s attacks on our democratic process are dangerous, but we will count every single vote.”
On Sunday, former President George W. Bush became the most prominent Republican to essentially declare the election over when he congratulated Biden.
Early Monday afternoon, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, also a Republican, congratulated Biden, although he said Trump has every right to go to court if he wishes.
“I congratulate Vice-President Biden,” DeWine said in a statement. “It would appear that President Trump’s legal team will be filing legal actions. The President’s lawyers have every right to present evidence in court on any legal issues or irregularities involving the election, and the courts are the proper place to hear evidence on these issues. When lawsuits have concluded and election results are certified, it is important for all Americans to honor the outcome.”
The office of Ohio’s top elections official, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, was more direct when asked if LaRose believed Biden had won.
“Yes, he does,” his spokeswoman, Maggie Sheehan, said in an email.
She pointed to an Oct. 6 statement LaRose had made on Fox News.
“When the results on election night say one thing and then when the results change over the ensuing several weeks, that’s not a sign that something nefarious is happening,” he said. “In fact, quite the contrary. It’s a sign that the legal process is being allowed to play itself out so that every legally cast vote can be tabulated. That’s exactly what we need to do.”
Meanwhile another Ohio Republican, Attorney General Dave Yost, is following Trump into court. Politico reported Monday that Yost’s office had filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a three-day extension for ballots to be received in Pennsylvania. That is one of the matters Trump and his allies are litigating.
Yost’s office didn’t respond when asked if the attorney general believed Biden had won the election. But Georgetown University Law Professor Josh Chafetz tweeted that the Supreme Court effort was pointless.
Yost released a statement saying that the legal action transcends pollitics.
“This constitutional question will come up again in future elections,” it quoted him as saying. “It is in the best interest of all Ohioans — all of America — to gain a definitive answer, regardless of politics.”
The office of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman didn’t immediately respond when asked if he believed that Biden had won the election. But over the weekend, Portman refused to criticize Trump for appearing in the White House East Room early Wednesday morning to declare himself the winner.
His office referenced a series of tweets posted on Friday that didn’t address whether it was right for a president to call himself the winner of an election in which vast numbers of votes hadn’t been counted.
The office of Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, an ardent Trump supporter, didn’t respond when asked if he believed Biden had won the election.
Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague didn’t answer whether he thought Biden had won, but he urged patience.
“While news organizations make projections, they do not determine the winner of the Presidential election — the people do,” he said in a statement issued by his office. “That’s why it’s important to allow the elections departments of all 50 states to continue completing their certification processes so the 2020 election can be finalized properly and in accordance with the states’ laws. This process takes time, and it’s in the best interest of our republic to ensure it’s done right, rather than done fast.”
Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.