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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Cincinnati mayoral candidates rolling in dough

It’s official now.

The 2013 Cincinnati mayoral race between Democrats Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley will be the most expensive since the city began direct election of the mayor in 2001.

That’s not much history to go on, but a record is a record.

Campaign finance reports filed this week showed that Cranley, a former city council member, had raised $909,775 through the Oct. 16 cut-off date, while Qualls had raised $640,000.

Of course, the two of them have been raising money since then. The Cranley campaign says it has topped its goal of $1 million with $1,010,00 as of Friday. Jens Sutmoller, Qualls’ campaign manager, said the Qualls campaign fundraising stood at $687,000 as of Friday.

And, of course, both will keep raising money, right up to the end.

Sutmoller expects Qualls to reach her goal of $750,000, which somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.8 million will be raised by the two candidates before all is said and done.

This beats the old record set in 2005, when two other Democrats – Mark Mallory and David Pepper – faced off for mayor. Mallory spent just about $380,000 while Pepper spent about $1.2 million.

And, if you think that dollars by definition equate to votes, think again – Mallory spent about one-third of what Pepper did; and Mallory won that race by about 3,000 votes.

Money is important in politics. But money does not necessarily buy happiness.

Historically, the bulk of the campaign money in Cincinnati has come from the business community – chockfull of wealthy, conservative Republicans who like writing maximum checks to Republican candidates and cajoling their friends into doing the same.

If you don’t believe that, ask former President George W. Bush. He may have been from Texas, but Cincinnati was his second home when it came to campaign fundraising.

But guess what? Those wealthy, conservative Republican business people don’t have a Republican candidate for mayor to back this year.

The Hamilton County Republican Party tried and failed to field a candidate for mayor this year. But those checkbooks in the breast pockets of the business people were getting itchy; and those checks had to go somewhere.

For the most part, they have gone to Cranley.

Alex Triantafilou, the chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, has looked at the campaign finance reports and seen a multitude of names on the Cranley report that are routinely donors to Republican candidates and causes.

“I think it’s because he is plainly perceived as the most conservative candidate in the race, the one seen as more business-friendly,’’ Triantafilou said. “And he has cultivated relationships with those people.”

The fact that Cranley, after leaving council in 2009, went to work for the law firm of Keating Muething & Klekamp – a firm founded by rock-ribbed conservative Republicans – hasn’t hurt him either in the fundraising department.

Qualls has pulled in some Republican money herself, but not to the extent that Cranley has.

She has depended mostly on a network of friends she has built up since entering city politics in the 1980s. While she has had some large fundraising events, her campaign manager said the Qualls campaign has depended on relatively small house parties at the homes of individual supporters.

“There is at least one going on nearly every night of the week,’’ Sutmoller said.  

The system of direct election of the mayor back in 2001 gave candidates like Cranley and Qualls a great boon in the fundraising department.

When there is a primary election in September – as there was this year, with two minor candidates on the ballot – the candidates can raise money for the primary and squeeze out the legal maximum contributions from as many donors as possible - $1,100 from individuals, $2,700 from political action committees, and $10,500 from political parties.

The top two vote-getters in the primary go on to face each other in the November general election campaign.

A general election is an election separate from the primary.

So those lucky ducks – Cranley and Qualls in this case – can go back to their maxed-out contributors and ask them for another $1,100, or $2,700, of $10,500 for the general election campaign. And they often get it.

Considering the fact that neither Cranley nor Qualls had to break a sweat – or spend much money – to defeat the likes of Jim Berns and Queen Noble in the primary, they can just keep piling on to the money they had collected all year leading up to the primary.

If they had more formidable competition for the top two spots in the primary, both Qualls and Cranley might have had to spend a considerable amount of money.

Instead, they get the advantage of a non-competitive primary and two bites of the apple when it comes to dunning campaign donors.

It’s a bonanza.

No wonder this mayoral election will set a record for campaign spending.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.