Election Day ends another cycle in the spotlight for Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — It’s here at last: the day Ohio residents and voters across the U.S. cast final ballots in one of the most unusual, contentious, colorful and crazy presidential elections in recent memory.

As usual, the battleground state was in the spotlight.

The state attracted dozens of visits by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, their running mates and armies of their surrogates. Those included Democratic President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Trump family members, Republican former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Democratic former President Bill Clinton and celebrities from actress Sally Field to rapper Jay Z.

And that was just since the political parties’ national conventions, one of which, the GOP’s, took place in Cleveland.

Ohio residents watched during the primary season as their Republican governor, John Kasich, made a run for the White House.

Kasich failed to gain much traction nationally with his upbeat message of inclusion, but he made the main stage at each of the crowded Republican primary debates, the first of which also was in Cleveland.

Though Kasich resoundingly won Ohio’s Republican primary, he failed to win any additional states and dropped out in May. He remained critical of Trump, refusing to endorse him and boycotting the Republican National Convention even though it was in his home state. He cast a symbolic write-in presidential vote for Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain, their party’s 2008 nominee.

Clinton’s main Democratic primary opponent, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, attracted huge crowds across Ohio before she prevailed as the party’s nominee. Sanders later pushed supporters to vote for Clinton at rallies in Ohio and elsewhere.

Ohio’s U.S. Senate contest also has been a doozy.

Former Gov. Ted Strickland looked at first like Democrats’ most formidable contender to flip a Senate seat in his party’s favor. National interests, including the billionaire Koch brothers, descended.

More than $50 million was spent by outside groups against Strickland. That, combined with key union endorsements and a notable voter outreach and turnout program by Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, turned Strickland’s early advantage in the race into a double-digit deficit in polls headed into Tuesday. Strickland continued to campaign with Clinton and other Democrats through the weekend.

Beyond the high-profile contests, Ohio residents are to decide winners Tuesday in three state Supreme Court races, 99 state House districts and 16 of 33 state Senate districts.

Democrats hope to cut into significant Republican majorities in both legislative chambers.

Roughly a dozen races are seen as competitive in the House, where Democrats seek to re-take seats lost two years ago and a couple districts vacated by Republicans. The House GOP won 65 seats in 2014, a high-water mark for the caucus.

The better-funded Republicans hold a 23-10 advantage in the Senate, where three races were poised to be close. The GOP has targeted a Democratic seat in eastern Ohio, where Trump is viewed favorably. Democrats hope Trump’s lackluster appeal in the suburbs helps them take two Republican districts touching Columbus and Cleveland.

In state Supreme Court races, judges are running for two open seats while Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is unopposed for a second term.

In one open-seat race, Democrat John P. O’Donnell, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge and a former private attorney and insurance adjustor, faces Republican Pat Fischer, a judge on the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and a former private attorney.

The other race pits Democrat Cynthia Rice, a judge on the 11th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Warren and a former county and federal prosecutor, against GOP Judge Pat DeWine, another 1st appellate district judge and a former Hamilton County trial judge, Cincinnati councilman and Hamilton County commissioner.

At least five Ohio communities are deciding whether to decriminalize marijuana after the state legalized medicinal cannabis under limited circumstances in a law enacted in September.

Proposals to ban the gas drilling technique hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are on ballots in Waterville and in Youngstown, marking opponents’ sixth attempt.


Associated Press reporters Ann Sanner and Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed to this report.