2016 Presidential Field

Chairs of the Athens County Democratic and Republican parties agree on a couple things about the local results in Ohio’s Primary Election March 15.

This includes the role college students played in the county favoring Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, and the general undesirability of Donald Trump for president, even though a majority of Athens County Republicans voted for him.

In the primary, Sanders received a majority of support from Athens County Democrats, though the state of Ohio voted in a majority for his opponent, former U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, though Ohio Gov. John Kasich won statewide Republican support in his bid for the presidency, Athens County Republicans joined other counties along the state’s eastern, southeastern and southern borders in supporting the candidacy of Trump.

In interviews Tuesday, Athens County Republican Chair Pete Couladis and Athens County Democratic Party Chair John Haseley each were asked for their reactions to these results as well as other down-ballot races.

Couladis called Trump’s win in Athens County disappointing.

“It’s disappointing because he’s a total disaster. He’s an embarrassment. He’s a lousy candidate,” Couladis said. “He doesn’t understand the issues. It’s all rhetoric… He’s acting like he’s running for dictator rather than (as a) president who’s going to work with Congress to get things done.”

Couladis called Trump a bully who offends people and has insulted every other candidate vying for the Republican nomination. Asked why Appalachian counties voted for Trump, Couladis said people aren’t paying close attention and are angry with Washington.

“A lot of that has to do with our current president. He makes people angry and frustrated, but you have to channel your anger in a positive direction, not be an advocate of a circular firing squad,” he said.

Couladis alleged that Trump is not a Republican, pointing to past donations Trump has made to Democrats and Republicans alike.

“That’s the way he operates. A typical rich, spoiled brat who gives money to everybody and then when he wants something he calls them up,” he said. “He’s just a lousy candidate. He’s tapped into a few issues and people are angry but they’re not thinking deeply.”

Asked what he’d like to see happen, Couladis indicated he’s hoping for a brokered convention where another candidate is selected as the Republican nominee, though he speculated that this would cause Trump to throw a tantrum and perhaps launch an independent bid for the White House.

Asked what he will do if the General Election is between Trump and Clinton, Couladis said he doesn’t know.

Democratic Party Chair John Haseley said he believes that the issues of fair trade and economic concerns that Trump has been talking about have connected with people in Appalachian parts of Ohio.

“The thing we care about is the income disparity issue,” Haseley said, noting that as the campaign progresses people will learn more about the positions the candidates have taken. “I don’t think people understand that Donald Trump says and believes that wages are too high in America.”

Once voters in this region recognize that Donald Trump has said he believes their wages are too high already and should not be increased beyond where they are now, Haseley predicted, they will reject his candidacy and embrace the Democratic candidate for president.

In the Democratic race, Haseley noted that abundance of energy on the Ohio University campus generated by the Sanders campaign. The OU College Democrats registered close to 1,500 students, he added.

“I think that what Bernie Sanders is talking about in the campaign is a message that really connects with our county in terms of not only progressive activism but also what he’s saying about the trade issue and income disparity,” Haseley said. “And then obviously what he’s said about the student debt issue is connecting on campus as well.”

Republic Chair Couladis said that Sanders’ victory in Athens County doesn’t surprise him.

“The Democrats here locally have been going further and further extreme on lots of issues, especially a lot of the college students,” he said. “They want free tuition apparently. They don’t stop to think how that’s going to be paid for and who’s going to pay for it. Sanders doesn’t really explain except to say we’re going to tax rich people.”

Couladis said there’s a lot of misinformation among younger voters, citing the work of Fox News personality Jesse Watters, who does an on-the-street segment for “The O’Reilly Factor” called “Watters’ World” where his interview subjects are typically shown failing to answer basic political questions accurately.

BOTH PARTY chairs were also asked about the open seat race in Ohio’s 94th House District, where state Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, is term-limited from seeking re-election.

Athens businesswoman Sarah Grace won the Democratic Primary March 15 against OU Graduate Student Senate President Eddie Smith. She will face Republican Jay Edwards of Nelsonville in November.

Haseley said that both Smith and Grace worked very hard and had a lot of support in the primary.

“I give Eddie Smith a lot of credit because the day after the primary he came to the executive and central committee meeting of the Democratic Party and endorsed Sarah Grace’s run for state rep and offered his full support,” he said, adding that Smith offered to do everything he could to help Grace get elected. “I think we’re going to have an incredibly unified effort.”

Haseley said that Sarah Grace is somebody who is going to stand with Democrats on the issues they care about and predicted she’ll see a lot of support from local Democrats. He also predicted Grace will be the next representative for the 94th District.

Meanwhile, Couladis said he believes Republicans have a good shot at winning that seat.

“Jay’s been working very hard, and it depends on whether the Eddie Smith voters turn out to support Sarah. We don’t know,” he said. “There are a lot of ‘ifs’ out there.”

Couladis also noted that the top of the ticket will play a role in how energized voters are and how down-ballot candidates fare.

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