Lute Quintrell is tired of hearing his phone ring. His email inbox is flooded. His television flashes between images of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It's October in Cleveland, and this election feels like it's been going on for years.
"Today, I've heard from Donald Trump. I've got a call from Ivanka Trump. I'm sure we will hear from Hillary shortly," said Quintrell. "I'm sure Senator Kaine and Governor Pence will also be calling."
As a native Ohioan from Cleveland Heights, Quintrell experiences this every election season. Ohio is essential to winning the presidency. Not only does the Midwestern state have 18 electoral votes, but also, no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. In fact, only two candidates have ever won the presidency without Ohio since 1904—Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. Ohio also mirrors the rest of the United States population-wise. Ohio is diverse, it's young and it's hungry.
In this election, Ohio is even more crucial. This year, millennials hold 56 percent of the vote. Ohio has 385 colleges and the largest number of young people with children out of all the swing states. It's a state whose population has diverse needs and wants, but also has one of the smallest margins needed for victory. Hoping to draw voters, candidates flock to Ohio for speeches and rallies. Organizations and volunteers fight to "get the vote out."
The Republican National Convention kicked off the final-leg of the election in Cleveland, where energy was high and the GOP tried to unite. Since then, both candidates and their supporters have made multiple stops in Ohio—holding rallies, events and talks across the state. Clinton spoke at Ohio State University on Oct. 10 after the second presidential debate. There she drew a record-breaking crowd of 18,500 people.
Supporting Clinton, President Obama attended an Ohio Democratic Party fundraising dinner in Cleveland on Oct. 14, while Trump will hold a rally at the Delaware County Fair in Delaware, Ohio on Oct. 20. Clinton's vice presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, will be in Ohio on the Wednesday before, after and during the final presidential debate. Kaine is leading a canvass throughout Columbus with the Ohio Together Coordinated Campaign, and will also speak at an Early Voting Rally in Springfield on Thursday. Both candidates are working hard to secure votes in a necessary swing state.
This election in particular has been divisive and unique. The candidates are disliked—one even despised by many—and the issues tossed aside in favor of an entertaining battle royale. As of Oct. 16, Trump was leading by a slim margin in Ohio at 45.6 percent, but for now, the results are too close to tell.
As the campaign heats up, Quintrell and other voters continue to be inundated with information about the campaign, but unlike past elections, this one has been—to put it politely—strange.
A Different Election
Quintrell, 64-year-old small business consultant, said this election is different because in Ohio they have a popular Republican governor—John Kaisch—who has crossed party-lines to get legislation passed and make positive change.
"At the same time, he has not endorsed the Republican candidate," said Quintrell. "You're seeing state party people not supporting Trump and you've got Trump people coming into the state who are openly fighting the state Republican party people. So, that is bizarre at best and totally mindboggling at worse. Because you would think that if the Republicans have to get out as many votes as they can in Ohio to counter the Democratic machine that they would band together to try to get out as many votes as they can."
Originally from Wooster, Ohio, Austen Yorko, 21, a student studying political science at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, said the blame for such a divisive election lies in the candidates themselves.
"In my eyes, this is an election not driven by policy, but more driven by character traits," said Yorko.
Quintrell voiced a similar opinion, but added that voters' growing and lasting frustrations with the candidates and this election in general are leading them to contemplate not voting.
"We have two major candidates who have very, very high unfavorable ratings and that's not going to go away with them," Quintrell said. "So if that's your candidate and you support that party and you don't like that candidate for whatever reason, what are you going to do? You're not going to vote for that other party. Staying home might be an option."
But there may be another option: third parties. It's certainly an option many millennials have been considering and that mainstream media and political leaders have been warning against until recently.
For some voters in Ohio, this option may not even pass through their minds.
Yorko said he thinks third parties are less convincing for Ohioans simply because a lot of Ohioan Democrats are traditional, old-school Democrats so an ideological gap exists between third parties and the voters themselves.
Even though Quintrell is currently deciding between Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Republican candidate Donald Trump, he admitted that he had no idea how the third parties are playing into this election in Ohio.
"I don't see them in ads. I don't see them in the media. I think this is really going to come down to the large metropolitan areas, which will very strongly lean toward the democratic ticket. You got the rest of the state that's going to very conservative and will vote for Republican," Quintrell said. "I don't see a strong enough third party candidate winning."
As for why third parties are not considered as an option, Yorko said it all relates to two words: swing state.
"I think there's this weird effect that comes from calling a state a swing state," Yorko said. "When you approach an election in Ohio, the question is always if it'll go red or blue—frames the election in an either or way and discounts third party candidates from the beginning."
That leaves voters with two options. For some, neither of which are that appealing right now.
A Diverse Population
Even though Trump and Clinton are highly unfavored, they both have many supporters in Ohio. But for Ohio voters as a whole, the diversity of their population makes it hard for a clear winner to be determined solely through polling.
Christiana Fote, 22, is an undecided voter, who is finishing up her bachelor's degree in civil engineering at Ohio State University. Originally from Houston, Texas, Fote decided this year to change her registration from Texas to Ohio. She had just moved to Ohio for college during the 2012 election. This year, she's looking at the election in a new light. She's been actively researching each candidate, but still feels torn.
"You know for one part of me, growing up in Texas and stuff, part of me supports a lot of the foreign policy ideas of the Republican side as well as a lot of the ideas on the economy. At the same time, a lot of the ideas about health care on the other side," Fote explained. "So, I'm sitting at this kinda support both sides don't know which one to go towards."
Fote isn't alone in her indecision. Yorko spoke on how Ohioans as a whole focus on different election issues.
"The problem is that most Ohio voters I know have different issues in the election that have different levels of salience," Yorko said. "With someone like Trump, his general strategy is to weaponize Clinton's policies in the context of the economy. One specific example is when Clinton made comments about wanting to reign in the coal industry for purposes of addressing climate change, Trump spun that as her destroying all of the coal jobs across the country."
Yorko pointed out how that for Ohioans, job growth is a huge issue.
"Poverty is up. Unemployment is up," Yorko said. "A couple of months ago, I was talking to my family and they were concerned about Clinton because of her comments about 'I'm going to end the coal industry,' and it really scared a lot of Ohioans because they're in the Rust Belt. Emphasis on job loss can really destroy a Democratic candidate."
Getting Out the Vote
It's all about numbers. Quintrell said Democrats focus on Ohio's metropolitan areas, while Republicans try to nail down votes in the rest of the state.
"If the Democrats are successful in getting out the vote, they can cast enough votes to win the election in Ohio, regardless of what happens elsewhere in the state," Quintrell said.
While Clinton has been campaigning heavily in Ohio for almost a year and a half, Trump has not, said Quintrell.
"The Trump party needs to figure out a way to get the Ohio Republican party to get in bed with them so they can effectively get out all of the Republican votes they can," said Quintrell.
Getting out the vote is relatively easy in Ohio, especially because voting is emphasized as an essential practice early on, according to Yorko.
"My teachers, parents and family emphasized how important it is to be an informed voter and how important it is to vote in Ohio," said Yorko.
Living in Texas for the past four years for college, Yorko has also noticed how people outside of Ohio view the swing stage.
"The funny thing is here [in San Antonio] whenever they find out that I'm from Ohio, the first thing I get is: 'You are voting in this election, right? Because you have to. You have to,'" said Yorko with a laugh.
Once someone reaches voting age though, the process becomes even more intense, even for absentee voters like Yorko.
"At least five times a week, I'll get a mix of phone calls, emails and text messages from the campaigns because I have an Ohio number for my phone. My email is on lots of Ohio emailing lists," Yorko said. "While I don't get the full TV ad campaign effects or candidates rolling through my hometown, I still get most of the kind of social media electronic campaigns thrown at me."
But for other voters, especially young adults, in Ohio, who need help with the voting process, a number of organizations exist that are constantly visiting colleges, answering questions and talking about the election. Fote said it was easy to change her registration. She stopped by one of the tables on campus one day, gave the volunteers her information, and let them take care of the rest.
"This organization, called OSU Votes, have forms for changing your address for registration on hand and will turn those in for you as well," Fote said. "OSU even had buses during the primary over spring break. They had different buses at certain times going from campus to the location to vote early."
Even with all of these organizations and volunteers around campus and the city, Fote said, she doesn't feel pressured to vote for a certain person, instead she feels encouraged to vote.
"These people are not necessarily telling you who to vote for," Fote said. "They are everywhere asking you if you are registered to vote, and at the same time, are really helpful."
As for coming elections, Quintrell and Yorko all said they want candidates with integrity, while Fote said she looks at the process like a job application and tries to determine who is the best option.
"We should start with the candidates. They say, 'Here are the three most important issues and here's how we should address those issues.' Once they open that door, it allows the public to look how those issues are addressed," Yorko said.
Quintrell added: "I want somebody who is going to tell me what they're going to do, and when they don't do it, tell me why they didn't do it. I get the political process that there's some give and take, but if we think this is the best deal we are going to get, then that's where we are."
Looking outside the swing state bubble, Fote said she looks at each candidate as if they were giving her their resume and then examines them further.
"I'm not necessarily considering who wins and how it will affect my life, but how they'll affect others' lives as well. Who as a person will lead our country better," said Fote. "If I was not in this state, how would I view this?"
Reach Staff Reporter Catherine Clark here.