Between drafting strategy behind the walls of the Capitol and pushing candidates on television panels in living rooms and editorial pages across the nation, major political parties are in the midst of midterm campaigning.
At the University of Toledo, the College Democrats and Republicans are prepping for the midterms, echoing the national parties’ strategies, facing similar challenges and staying true to their own political playbooks as they campaign for local and statewide candidates and push students toward the ballot box.
In the wake of the 2016 election that shook the Washington establishment and halfway through the tenure of an unconventional presidency, the coveted red and blue waves face the burden of intra-party challenges.
Democrats face calls for leadership change, an energized progressive base and once-solidly blue districts that went red for Trump. Republicans deal with a president who often seems entrenched in political scandal and can tip a primary with a single tweet.
With a little over two months until election day, Democrats need 24 seats in the House and only two in the Senate to take back control of Congress.
“Mostly what we’re going to focus on is...voter registration, and there are a lot of organizations that we’re going to collaborate on with, said Alexander Seifert, chair of the UT College Democrats. "The more people we can get to register to vote, the better,”
After laying out their initial get-out the-vote strategy, he seemed to perk up at the mention of President Trump and the GOP.
“Our position...is mainly that we’re going to try to frame Democratic candidates as the antithesis of the Republican Party, which we see as sort of a, well to be honest, we think that they’ve sort of betrayed the country.”
He mentioned the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen.
In a recent guilty plea, Cohen implicated Trump in violating campaign finance laws with hush money to cover up alleged affairs to influence the 2016 election.
Most members of the president’s party remained silent.
“The Republican Party largely has not been able to stand up to [Trump],” Seifert said. “They’ve been completely complicit... and so that’s something that we’re going to try to highlight.”
But Ohio, which former President Barack Obama carried, voted for Trump in 2016.
So, just as some National Democratic Party members tend to avoid using the word “impeachment” - especially in Trump-friendly territory - Seifert saves that kind of language for “when it’s appropriate.”
When campaigning for statewide candidates like Sherrod Brown for U.S. Senate and Richard Cordray for governor, “for the most part, we’re going to let the candidates give their own rhetoric.”
But, when pushing students to vote on campus, talk of impeachment, porn stars and payoffs may slip out because “the younger crowd will react much better to stronger rhetoric,” according to Seifert.
On the other side, the UT College Republicans relayed a similar strategy: encourage participation in the electoral process, endorse statewide and local candidates and engage in grassroots door-to-door campaigning.
“We believe this is the best way to interact with voters who want to go in the right direction in the belief system of the Republican Party of free markets, strong defense and keeping local issues intact,” said Shane Logan, the group’s chairman.
Unlike many GOP members who have fully embraced the party’s leader, he erred on the side of caution.
Concerning support for the president, Logan said, “it definitely can ride a fine line sometimes you do have to, you know, thread the needle.”
“These candidates have their own records to run on as well,” but he said the president’s endorsement helps.
Midterm campaign plans at UT form a microcosm of the national parties.
Locally and nationally, both Democrats and Republicans strategically use the president. They keep him close or place him just far enough away. Therein, voters’ awareness of the political shift transforming Ohio and the nation matters.
In the coming weeks, both groups plan to increase visibility on campus through tabling and official endorsement announcements.
But with an unpredictable president, a 24-hour news cycle and an era of seemingly unpredictable politics, whatever methods play well today, may not work so well tomorrow.