COLUMBUS, Ohio—The unexpected rises of billionaire Donald Trump and socialist Bernie Sanders. Signs of weakness for Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. Curiosity about the future of Vice President Joe Biden.
It’s been a summer of political chaos.
Yet in Ohio, the nation’s most reliable general election bellwether, voters are taking a more measured view of a race they ultimately may decide.
“It’s all just chatter,” said Judith Anderson, 40, a Democrat from Cincinnati. “We’re a ways out.”
Anderson was one of the more than 50 voters interviewed by The Associated Press the week before Labor Day in Ohio, which along with Florida will be one of the most coveted states in the 2016 election.
No GOP nominee has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.
Voters report that the Republican primary is wide open, even as Trump holds steady in the polls.
But there’s little interest in establishment candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and a surprising lack of energy for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Voters did say there’s room for someone other than Trump to tap into their frustration with a political system they believe has abandoned them.
When it comes to Trump, Ohio Republicans have a palpable excitement about his brash brand of politics—and a deep uncertainty about his qualifications to serve as president.
Earl Taggart, 44, a Cincinnati-area electrician, said Trump’s bluntness is forcing other candidates to address issues they would rather avoid, including illegal immigration. But could Taggart see Trump becoming president?
He doesn’t think Trump has the slightest chance, he said. “He’s not the mouthpiece we want for America.”
Nearly all the voters drawn to Trump said there were other candidates they would consider supporting, namely Trump’s fellow political novices: retired surgeon Ben Carson and former technology executive Carly Fiorina.
For the more experienced politicians in the race, there’s little to latch on, according to voters interviewed.
Most other candidates drew barely a mention from Republican voters, including Kasich, who became a favorite of political insiders after the first debate.
One political veteran whose name did come up frequently was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—but only to reject the idea of electing a third Bush as president.
“We’ve already had two Bushes,” said Randy Wadsworth, a 62-year-old retired steelworker from Canton who is solidly behind Trump. “It’s time to give someone else a chance.”
The interviews also highlighted nagging concerns about Clinton’s honesty and trustworthiness amid the continued revelations about her use of a private email account and server while serving as secretary of state.
“I don’t know whether she’s telling the truth or lying,” said Daniel Brown, a 50-year-old painter from Cincinnati. “She’s been avoiding it. Well, not even really avoiding it, but not answering either.”
Even among Democrats concerned about Clinton’s activities at the State Department, there was only moderate interest in hanging the party’s White House hopes on another candidate.
Washington insiders have been scrutinizing Biden’s every move for signs that he will make a late entry into the race. But few Ohio Democrats interviewed by AP said they would consider voting for him. They did so only after being asked about his potential candidacy.
There was more intrigue surrounding Sanders, the self-described Democratic socialist from Vermont. The senator has attracted massive crowds in liberal strongholds and gained in early polling throughout the summer.
“He shows that he has values and he does his best to stick with them,” said Sandra Aska, a 72-year-old Democrat from Columbus.
She hasn’t settled on a candidate yet and is torn between Clinton’s experience in international affairs and Sanders’s populist economic positions.
“Maybe they'd make a good ticket together,” she quipped over breakfast at a local market.
Other Democrats said they liked Sanders’s calls for free college tuition and better wages for the middle class.
But some shared the view of 30-year-old Aaron Singleton of Canton, who said Sanders’s plans seem “so far-fetched as to how he’s going to implement them.”