Commentary: Pureval Loses The Duck, Starts Talking About Who He Is

Aug 8, 2018

Updated: 9:24 a.m.

This time around, TV ads featuring a stuffed toy duck squawking Aftab! – well, that just won't do it.

Aftab Pureval and his campaign team know that perfectly well.

The goofy-looking duck was a clever way to imprint your name on the public mind in 2016, when you were a 33-year-old first-time candidate running for Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, which is not really a big-time position in politics.

It's no powerhouse job, although William Henry Harrison held the office of Hamilton County Clerk of Courts when he was elected the 9th president of the United States in 1840 -- although we can say with certainty that was not the reason he was elected.

But now the 35-year-old Democrat is running for Congress in Ohio's 1st Congressional District against a Republican incumbent in Steve Chabot, who has held the office for all but two of the past 24 years and has been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee about as many times as Heinz has varieties.

Yet, still Chabot is standing on his two legs, ready to give it another go.

And the duck is no more. RIP.

Today, 13 weeks before election day, Pureval is up on the air with his first TV ad, a 60-second mostly biographical spot called Sunshine.

In the year 2018, after all this country has gone through, it seems a pity that a candidate like Pureval has to go on television to introduce himself to the approximately 50 percent of the district's electorate (mostly those located in Warren County) by explaining why he has an unusual name and brown skin.

But there is a belief among Democrats that Pureval could become the target of a sub rosa whisper campaign in this majority white district that Aftab Pureval is not one of us.

So he deals with it head-on in his TV ad.

It begins with a smiling candidate looking straight at the camera and talking about his background:

I'm incredibly proud of my name – Aftab. It means 'sunshine.' I'm the son of a refugee. My mom is from Tibet, fled the communist Chinese and later came to the U.S. with my father.

I was born and raised right here in Ohio. I went to Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

And he talks about his record in a little over a year-and-a-half in a four-year term as clerk of courts:

I kept my promise to modernize and clean up the office and saved the taxpayers nearly a million dollars.

The personal part of the ad – the part that people will remember – shows Pureval walking with his mother, a pleasant, smiling woman who looks to be very proud of her son.

It was his mother who first warned him that "Aftab" is not a strong ballot name.

Well, with the help of the goofy duck, it was enough in 2016 to allow him to beat a Republican incumbent in Tracy Winkler, whose surname has been one of the most effective in Hamilton County politics for decades.

"We're really proud of our first ad,'' said his campaign manager, Sarah Topy. "It reminds voters of who he is and what he has accomplished in the clerk's office."

A 30-second Chabot campaign ad began airing in the district Wednesday morning. It is entirely an attack ad on Pureval. Chabot's face is never seen, just dark and grainy images of the Democrat. 

In it, a narrator says that Pureval, when he took office as clerk of courts in Jan. 2017 "started firing long-time employees and used tax dollars as hush money to buy their silence." Then, the ad says, Pureval began replacing the fired employees with his "cronies." 

Sarah Topy, Pureval's campaign manager, said the ad is "misleading" and "untrue." Pureval did fire some of the political appointees of the previous clerk and gave them severance payments, which, she said, "he didn't have to do." The employees and Pureval signed a non-disclosure statement, which, she said, "basically says we won't disaparage you and you won't disaparage us. It's a very common thing in the private sector." 

In late May, Chabot, in his blog, wrote a piece called As Different As You Can Get, a laundry list of the ways in which he and Pureval differ.

Here's Chabot's take:

Republican Steve Chabot has held the office in Ohio's 1st congressional district for all but two of the past 24 years.
Credit JOHN MINCHILLO / AP

How connected each of us is (or isn't) to the congressional district is another stark difference. I was born in Cincinnati. Lived here my whole life. Worked for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission. Taught at St. Joseph School in the West End. Practiced law here. Served the people of our community on Cincinnati City Council, the Hamilton County Commission and now in the United States Congress.

Aftab Pureval moved into our district the day before he announced he wanted to represent us in Congress. He had barely served one year of a four-year commitment to be our Clerk of Courts. Before that, he'd grown up in Beavercreek, which is in Greene County, outside our congressional district. He'd worked a couple of years for P&G and was basically an intern with the local U.S. Attorney's office – although he brags that he was a federal prosecutor – hardly. The bottom line is, my connection to the people of the First Congressional District are deep – his are tenuous at best.

David Niven, assistant professor of American politics at the University of Cincinnati, looked at Pureval's Sunshine ad and thought it was a pretty effective way of starting a media campaign.

"It does two things,'' Niven said. "First, it puts him in context – an agreeable, Cincinnati context. And it's telegenic. The candidate is telegenic. He looks good doing it. So, it's working on two levels."

And while the bulk of the ad is positive, Niven pointed out that, near the end, "there is a very subtle jab at Chabot suggesting he has been around too long."

Pureval's ad, Niven said, "is not the most inventive one I've ever seen. It's pretty standard stuff. But it is a friendly introduction from a candidate a lot of people don't know and might have questions about,'' he said. "I think this ad works for him."

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

  Read more of Howard Wilkinson's Politically Speaking column here.