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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.

The Crucial Issues And Races Every Voter In The Tri-State Has To Decide Tuesday

John Minchillo
Voters enter the Hamilton County Board of Elections on the first day of early voting, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Cincinnati.

It really doesn't matter where you live in southwest Ohio or northern Kentucky or in southeastern Indiana.

If you are a registered voter, you have plenty of reasons to go out to vote.

Maybe, if you live in Ohio, you already have, through mail-in absentee ballots or in-person early voting at your county's board of elections.

Still, most will wait until Tuesday to go to the polls.

Incredible amounts of money have been spent – millions by candidates and by independent expenditure committees – in an election where the big national story is whether Democrats can regain control of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, which would guarantee a major headache for President Trump as he tries to push his own legislative agenda for the next two years.

Most political observers believe re-taking the House is a good bet for Democrats. The Senate – not so much. Republicans may even pick up a few seats.

Here are a few of the local congressional battlegrounds locally:

U.S. Senate, Indiana

This is one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country. Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly is being challenged by Republican businessman Mike Braun.

Most polls show this race as a toss-up.

Ohio 1st Congressional District 

This has been, by far, the loudest, most contentious exchange of charges and counter-charges by two candidates in the region.

It pits incumbent Republican Steve Chabot, who has held the seat for 22 years, against Aftab Pureval, a relative newcomer who created a sensation in the Hamilton County Democratic Party two years ago when he won an upset victory in the county clerk of courts race.

The district is made up of all of western Hamilton County, parts of northeast Hamilton County, and all of Warren County.

Ohio 2nd Congressional District 

The conventional wisdom is that this is a safe Republican seat. But a first-time Democratic candidate, business owner Jill Schiller of Hyde Park, has forced the Republican incumbent, Brad Wenstrup, into spending money and campaigning hard – something he hasn't had to do much of since 2012, when he took the seat from Republican incumbent Jean Schmidt in a GOP primary.

Wenstrup is still the favorite in a district which stretches from eastern Hamilton County to Pike and Scioto counties. But Schiller has been making him work for it.

Ohio Issue 1

In Ohio, there is only one statewide issue on the ballot.

Issue 1 is a constitutional amendment that would re-classify drug offenses from felony to misdemeanor charges for both accused and convicted drug users – but not for dealers.

It would require the state to use the money saved by reducing the number of inmates on drug use charges on drug treatment and rehabilitation programs.

It is an issue that has split the candidates for Ohio governor, with Democrat Richard Cordray in favor of it and Republican Mike DeWine opposed.

Hamilton County Auditor and Commissioner

Only two county offices are up for election this year, with the rest on the ballot two years from now.

County commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, and County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, a Democrat, are both considered heavy favorites for re-election, but both have opponents who are running spirited campaigns.

Stephanie Summerow Dumas, a former mayor of Forest Park, was not supposed to be the Democratic candidate for county commissioner – according to the Hamilton County Democratic Party, that is.

The party endorsed Mount Healthy Mayor James Wolf for the seat, but Dumas, despite spending barely any money, ended up winning the primary with 58 percent of the vote.

She'll be heavily outspent by Monzel, but her defeat of Wolf made her a believer in low-budget, grassroots campaigns.

Rhodes – who is as conservative as any Democrat you will ever meet – is running for an eighth term as county auditor, a job the former Delhi Township trustee took over in 1990.

His opponent, Nancy Aicholz, is a favorite of the GOP leadership, and played a large role in this summer's successful petition drive to put an issue on the ballot to repeal a sales tax increase. The Democratic majority on the county commission then voted to take the sales tax hike off the ballot.

Ohio House Races In Hamilton County:

Six of the seven Ohio House races in Hamilton County are contested this year, but two stand out as particularly interesting races.

In the 27th Ohio House District, veteran Republican legislator Tom Brinkman – the founder of COAST (Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes) – has his hands full with a challenge from Democrat Christine Fisher, a former finance manager for major brands at Procter & Gamble.

Fisher ran for a seat on the Cincinnati school board in 2017 and lost, but she has been running an aggressive campaign. Brinkman, one of the most conservative representatives in a very conservative House, is famous for attending nearly every public meeting that takes place in his district, which includes much of the east side of Cincinnati and Anderson Township.

In the 28th Ohio House District, made up of most of northern Hamilton County, Republican incumbent Jonathan Dever is running for a third term in in a district that has been won by a Democrat in the past – Connie Pillich.

This year, he faces a Democratic opponent who is running a high-profile campaign – Jessica Miranda, president of the Winton Woods school board.

Butler County

Candidate races in Butler County are nearly always runaway victories for the Republicans and draw little attention.

By far, the most interesting question on the ballot in Butler County this year is Issue 2, a 1.5 mill, 10-year levy to pay for extra security and mental health resources in five Butler County school districts.

It was placed on the ballot by the Butler County Educational Service Center (ESC) which decided to put the levy on the ballot earlier this year when the Ohio General Assembly passed a law allowing an ESC to create tax levies exclusively for those services.

Five of the 10 school districts served by the Butler County ESC – Hamilton, Fairfield, New Miami, Edgewood and Monroe – opted into the levy while the other five districts passed.

Officials in the five districts participating say the money will pay for some physical security improvements and, where needed, to expand mental health services.

The districts would also be able to hire additional school resource officers.

Hamilton schools have five school resource officers on staff now, and will add two more this year. Superintendent Larry Knapp told WVXU the levy would allow the school district to hire another six.

The most visible opponent of the levy has been Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, an advocate of placing more armed personnel in school – personnel who have been trained in how and when to use firearms.

"As far as I can see, these school districts can already afford all these things they want to do,'' Jones told WVXU. "This is just a big money grab."

Warren County

The only two contested candidate races in heavily Republican Warren County are contests that overlap with other counties. 

The first is Ohio's 7th Senate District, where incumbent Republican Steve Wilson is being challenged by Democrat Sara Bitter. That district also includes parts of Butler and Warren counties.

All of Warren County is in Ohio's 1st Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Steve Chabot is facing a challenge from Democrat Aftab Pureval. The district includes western Hamilton County and parts of northeastern Hamilton County.

Northern Kentucky

Democratic Party leaders in the three heavily Republican Northern Kentucky counties – Boone, Kenton and Campbell – are pleased this year that they have candidates running against all of the Republican candidates for state representative and a state senate seat in the region.

That is not always the case.

The state senate race is in the 24th District, which includes Campbell, Bracken and Pendleton counties. The candidates are Republican incumbent Wil Shroder and a Democrat and business owner, Rachel Roberts.

In the race for Campbell County Judge Executive, Republican incumbent Steve Pendery has two opponents – Democrat Calvin Sidle and independent Charlie "Coach" Coleman.

Michelle Snodgrass – Campbell County's Commonwealth Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit – is the only Democrat holding a high-profile countywide seat in all of Northern Kentucky. She recently prosecuted the Shayna Hubers murder trial.

Her father, Jack Snodgrass, was another well-known Democratic officeholder until Dec. 2014, when he retired after 25 years as Campbell County Clerk.

Justin Fortner, a Bellevue resident and a first-time candidate, is the GOP candidate taking on Snodgrass.