Suhail Ahmed cast his advanced ballot with leadership on his mind 

By Ian Campbell

Nov. 3, 2020


Suhail Ahmed is passionate about football and the values he has learned from the game. Photo provided by Suhail Ahmed.

Suhail Ahmed is passionate about football and the values he has learned from the game.Photo provided by Suhail Ahmed. 

Suhail Ahmed is no stranger to thinking about leadership at times when the stakes are high. 

As a lifelong athlete growing up in Springfield, Ohio, he says he learned important lessons from his high school coach, which he has carried with him into many games. Now, in the most important election of his lifetime, the 38-year-old resident of Columbus has been thinking a lot about leadership in the context of his vote. 

“This country is at stake,” says Ahmed. 

Ahmed cast his ballot at the advanced polls in one of the key battleground states that could determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential race. With its 18 electoral votes, Ohio can have a real impact in the electoral college and has a voter base that puts it within reach for both major parties. 

The state is particularly important to President Donald Trump’s campaign, with no Republican ever having won the presidency without winning Ohio. Democrats have sometimes won without it, but the Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s campaign has it in their sights as a state that could seal their victory. 

The Biden campaign swung through Cleveland for a rally on Monday, an indication that they see the state as winnable. 

“We’re sort of a weird state in some respects,” says Nathaniel Swigger, a political scientist at Ohio State University. “We have a relative balance of Democrats and Republicans. Part of it is that both parties have invested here and have a long history of building up party machinery and loyalty.” 

Brian Calfano, a political commentator based in Cincinnati, says these two groups of voters are mostly talking only to each other. 

“You think you’re in two different worlds,” says Calfano. “You leave the city and it’s like Trumpland. You go into the city and it’s a totally different thing.” 

Polls had the two candidates running neck and neck in the homeward stretch of the campaign, with Trump leading by less than a point. Calfano says winning will be less about persuasion and more about motivating turnout. 

As a committed Democrat, Ahmed says he felt motivated to vote because of the contrast of leadership styles on offer in the race. 

Ahmed says Donald Trump does not embody the qualities he deems as essential core values he learned from playing sports. 

“Values like integrity, ambition, and love,” says Ahmed. “Values are important, because if you’re true to your core values, you can become a good leader.” 

“Integrity is the main value I feel like a leader should have, and he has lied about many things about the pandemic. He said that there are only a few cases and it will go away. And look now, we’ve had so many people die.” 

Ahmed says that as a second-generation Indian American, the death of George Floyd is another issue where he saw a deficit of leadership from Trump. 

“There was no empathy,” says Ahmed. “I think a leader would have tried to heal the divisions in this country.”

Ahmed’s friend Derek McCurdy, who he has volunteered with, is not surprised that leadership was a motivating factor in Ahmed’s vote. 

“He always has a growth mindset and is always learning through his endeavors personally and professionally,” says McCurdy. “We’ve talked about those principles and values that make up leadership and what kind of person is a leader.” 

The key issues that have shaped Ahmed’s vote have played out across the United States. 

“I think in a lot of ways, Ohio is kind of a microcosm for the country,” says Swigger.If you ask voters about the most important issues, it’s almost always going to be COVID or economic issues. 

Swigger’s analysis of Ohio as a microcosm is shared by Calfano. 

“It is almost like a tale of two worlds. You get to the rural areas, there’s no real concern about police brutality,” Calfano said. And there’s also just less [of] a sensible concern about COVID.”

Swigger sees some signs of this shifting at a local level. 

“There’s this very strange thing right now, where the presidential race almost feels like something completely separate,” says Swigger. He says the local race in the Ohio 12th congressional district, where he lives, has been far less polarizing. 

“It is something to keep an eye on,” says Swigger. I think it’s kind of split within the Republican leadership.” 

No stranger to a big game, Ahmed is proud to have played his part as a voter and encourages all eligible voters to cast a ballot. 

I do feel a sense of power, you know, because it’s such a crucial state,” says Ahmed. I feel a responsibility, a big responsibility.”