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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.

Some final thoughts on a most interesting (if not well attended) election

Republicans were dancing on their desks Tuesday night. Democrats’ chins were dragging on the floor. But before we shut the door on the 2014 election, here are some final thoughts on what happened Tuesday, especially here in southwest Ohio.


Conventional wisdom had the 9th Ohio Senate District race between former Cincinnati council member Cecil Thomas and current council member Charlie Winburn going down to the wire.

But, in the end, Thomas crushed Winburn, knocking him flatter than a pancake with 57 percent of the vote.

It was no contest – despite the fact that Thomas was outspent by Winburn by at least four-to-one.  

What happened here?

Well, money doesn’t always buy happiness.

Thomas, who was elected to council four times before resigning in 2013, always ran low-budget council campaigns. He had what Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke called “street cred” and is well known to people in the majority African-American district.

“He can walk the streets of that district; he talks to people constantly; they know who he is and what he is about,’’ Burke said.

And the Ohio Democratic Senate Caucus’s campaign arm sent help in the form of campaign staff to get Democrats to the polls and do the grassroots work that wins elections.

Winburn, on the other hand, had a fundamental problem – a conservative Republican running in a state senate district where 74 percent of the voters cast ballots for President Obama two years ago.

“As much as Charlie Winburn tried to run as a Democrat, he hasn’t been one in decades,’’ Burke said.

He was a Democrat, a long time ago. He worked for former Democratic congressman Thomas Luken and, in the 1980s, had a job in the administration of Democratic governor Richard Celeste. But when Republican George Voinovich was elected governor in 1990, Winburn switched parties and has been running as a Republican ever since.

Hamilton County GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou said one of Winburn’s mistakes in this campaign was that he kept telling voters that he would be in the Republican majority in the Ohio Senate and would be able to help them more as part of the majority.

“That’s a hard message to get through to most people,’’ Triantafilou said. “Most people don’t know who controls the legislature or even know who their state senator or state representative is.”

At the same time he was delivering that message, Winburn was hammering away at the theme that he would be an “independent voice,’’ willing to stand up to the Republican leadership in Columbus when he disagreed.

It was a mixed message that Winburn was sending to the people of the 9th District.

In the end, voters weren’t buying either message.

A Democrat flies in under the radar:

Ohio Board of Education races generally get little attention; and don’t attract the large amounts of money that the statewide races – or even many local races – do.

There are 19 members of the board; 11 are elected by districts and the rest appointed by the governor.

In the district that includes Hamilton, Warren and part of Butler counties, incumbent Republican Debe Terhar of Green Township, the president of the board, decided not to run for re-election, citing personal reasons.

Zac Haines, a Symmes Township resident, was the GOP's choice to replace Terhar. The Democrats ran Pat Bruns of Price Hill.

Bruns won with 56 percent of the vote, taking one seat away from the Republicans on the state board, although they still have the majority. Bruns took 59 percent in Hamilton County in a year when Democrats weren’t turning out in large numbers. Haines won heavily Republican Warren County with 56 percent, but the portion of Butler County in the district went to Bruns with 57 percent of the vote.

A strange turnout phenomenon:

Hamilton County did not have a very good turnout in Tuesday’s election – 44 percent, which was about what election officials in the county predicted. That’s seven percentage points below the turnout in 2010, the last gubernatorial election.

But, as good a day as it was for Ohio Republicans statewide, once again sweeping all the statewide offices from governor on down, the turnout in three solidly GOP counties that surround Hamilton County – a “purple” county that is not as Republican as it was a few decades ago – the turnout was even lower.

Warren County, about as Republican county as there is in Ohio, had a turnout of 40 percent. Clermont County was at 38 percent. And Butler County, home of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, was the lowest of all at 37 percent.

A little bit of Capitol Hill irony:

Speaking of Boehner, the West Chester resident and Reading native, was thumping his chest, with justification, Tuesday night when it became clear that the new U.S. House that convenes in early January will have the largest Republican majority since 1928.

And who was the elected Speaker of the House in that Congress. Cincinnati’s own Nicholas Longworth.

A lesson for would-be write-in candidates:

Republican County Commissioner Chris Monzel made a lot of people angry when he and fellow GOP commissioner Greg Hartmann voted to put a sales tax increase on Tuesday’s ballot that covered repairs to Union Terminal, but not Music Hall.

A lot of Democrats – and many Republicans – were upset over that decision; and it sparked a last-minute move in August by the Hamilton County Democratic Party to replace their little-known and under-funded candidate for Monzel’s seat, Sean Patrick Feeney, with a better known candidate.

Well, that didn’t work. Feeney, who won a two-candidate primary in May, wouldn’t budge.

Former city council member Jim Tarbell decided to try to marshal the forces which were upset with Monzel.  He filed as a write-in candidate for county commissioner.

Four years ago, Tarbell was on the ballot as the Democratic candidate for county commissioner. He lost to Monzel, who took 56 percent of the vote.

Despite the late start, Tarbell gathered a fair amount of money; he used it on slick mail pieces and a good social media campaign. He had plenty of “Write in Tarbell” yard signs, particularly in East Side neighborhoods.

In the end, it didn’t matter a whit what Tarbell did.

According to the unofficial results, he came in third with 14,945 write-in votes. That amounts to 6.62 percent of the ballots cast. Monzel was re-elected easily with 57 percent of the vote; and Feeney – the candidate the Democratic party wanted to dump – took 36 percent.

If you are a person who has thought about running a write-in campaign for public office, the moral of the story is this: You are probably not as well-known as Jim Tarbell. He couldn’t pull it off; and your chances are probably slim to none. And slim’s left town.

One election day, two big wins for Christie Bryant:

Bryant, the newly-elected Democratic state representative from the 32nd Ohio House District, had reason to celebrate Tuesday.

Bryant, the former president of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, was running for the seat being vacated by State Rep. Dale Mallory, who couldn’t run again under Ohio’s term limits law.

The district is heavily Democratic one; and it certainly showed Tuesday for the first time candidate – Bryant took 70 percent of the vote, while Republican A. Brian McIntosh had about 30 percent.

Reason enough for Bryant to celebrate, but that was not the only big thing that happened in her life on election.

Wednesday, on her Facebook page, she made this announcement:

“The best thing that happened (Tuesday) was not winning the election – it was having our big ultrasound and finding out that my husband and I are expecting a baby boy!”

And that beats winning an election, hands down.

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