Commentary: On A Bad Night For Ohio Democrats, Hamilton County Gave Them Hope

Nov 7, 2018

Well, which Democratic election night in Ohio would you like to read more about?

The one that took place statewide, which was a (nearly) unmitigated disaster for the Ohio Democratic Party?

Or the one in Hamilton County, which was pretty darned good; enough so that we wouldn't be surprised if there were hundreds of local Democrats dancing on table tops in dozens of watering holes from Mt. Adams to Northside.

The only thing that was relatively easy for Ohio Democrats Tuesday night was the re-election of Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown over a weak Republican opponent in Jim Renacci, who stooped to baseless rumor-mongering about his opponent in the final weeks, as he saw his chances slipping away.

Nothing worse than a candidate with nothing to say when he or she realizes all hope is lost. They tend to get meaner than snakes.

Of course, Brown, in his victory statement, started laying hints about the 2020 presidential election; the Great Mentioners of Washington's political punditry class have already started talking about the Ohio senator as a potential Democratic presidential candidate.

But very few Democrats in Ohio are thinking about that today.

They're thinking about the embarrassment of watching their statewide ticket from gubernatorial candidate on down go up in smoke for the third mid-term election in a row.

It happened in 2010; it happened again in 2014.

But this year was supposed to be different. This was supposed to be the year that Donald Trump had finally pushed his luck too far, especially with women voters, and that the Democrats would be swept into office in Ohio.

No such luck.

Gubernatorial candidate Rich Cordray? Lost to Mike DeWine. Attorney General candidate Steve Dettelbach? Knocked out by Dave Yost. Secretary of State candidate Kathleen Clyde? Taken out by Frank LaRose. State auditor candidate Zack Space? Beaten by Keith Faber. And Cincinnati's own Rob Richardson, the candidate for state treasurer? Smoked by Robert Sprague.

These were some very good candidates the Democrats put up. A few weeks ago, it appeared likely that Cordray and a few of the other could win and at least win a toehold on state government.

The only good news for the Ohio Democratic Party was that they won both seats up for election on the Ohio Supreme Court – the only race in which a party designation wasn't next to the candidates' names.

Democrats Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart were elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, even though the Republicans still have a 5-2 majority.

Basketball legend LeBron James, an Akron native, may have left Cleveland for the Los Angeles Lakers, but he still pays attention to his home state and tweeted out his congratulations to Stewart Tuesday night, with the hashtag #ChangeWillCome.

It is going to take a while to fully understand what happened to the Ohio Democrats. Of course, Trump, in his post-election speech Wednesday, took credit for pulling DeWine across the finish line, mainly because of his Monday rally in Cleveland. He didn't explain why his magical touch didn't work when he was campaigning in Cincinnati.

But there is no doubt about this: The vast majority of voters who went to the polls Tuesday had Trump on their minds. They either despise him and wanted to stop his legislative agenda and his influence dead in its tracks or they were Trump boosters who can't get enough of him, his often-divisive rhetoric and his "my way or the highway" style.  

That was Ohio on Tuesday. But not Hamilton County. Hamilton County, as David Niven, assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, said, "was in a different universe."

Every single Democratic statewide candidate, from Cordray on down, won in Hamilton County.

The Democrats in Hamilton County won three seats on the Ohio First District Court of Appeals, defeating two incumbent Republicans to do it. Democrat Terry Nestor took out Republican incumbent Steven Martin for a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court seat, and Thomas Beridon holds a slim lead in the unofficial vote count over incumbent Republican Curt Hartman.

And, perhaps most astounding of all, Democrat Stephanie Summerow Dumas, a former Forest Park Mayor, stunned Republicans by defeating County Commissioner Chris Monzel, a former Cincinnati council member who was elected to the county commission in 2010.

It was the second time this year that Dumas upset the apple cart of conventional thinking. In the March primary, she defeated the Democratic Party's endorsed candidate, Mt. Healthy Mayor James Wolf.

Now, with 51 percent of the unofficial vote count, Dumas is on her way to joining Democrats Todd Portune and Denise Driehaus in making up the first all-Democrat county commission in anyone's memory.

"I don't know what happened in the rest of the state, but we did our job here in Hamilton County,'' said Connie Pillich, co-chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party.

Pillich said the Democrats did so well because the demographics of the county keep changing in the favor of the Democrats and because they had a superior grassroots effort, with 120 paid poll workers at polling places, along with dozens more who were volunteers, distributing over 200,000 Democratic sample ballots to voters – sample ballots which emphasized the judicial candidates.

Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Alex Triantafilou acknowledged it was a bad day for the GOP in Hamilton County, but said the party is not giving up on the county.

"This county will continue to elect Republicans,'' Triantafilou said. "I'm not worried about it."

Triantafilou might not be worried, but GOP officeholders who face re-election campaigns in the next few election cycles probably should be.

 

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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