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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

How Did Jessica Miranda Pull Off A 56-Vote Win in Ohio's 28th House District?

jessica miranda
Courtesty of Jessica Miranda Campaign

Democrat Jessica Miranda – mother, business owner, and president of the Winton Woods school board – defeated two-term Republican state representative Jonathan Dever of Madeira last month by only 56 votes out of over 55,000 cast.

Impressive, but in and of itself, not so unusual. Almost Dog Bites Man news. Democrats were beating incumbent Republicans in legislative races from sea to shining sea in November.

But here's what makes the 28th Ohio House District race one of the most interesting of many interesting races in this very good year for Democrats in Hamilton County:

Two years ago, in the very same 28th District, the very same Jessica Miranda lost to the very same Jonathan Dever by nearly 15 percentage points. That's a 9,290-vote edge for the Republican.

And this year he loses by 56 votes.

There were no scandals perpetrated by either candidate in the intervening two years; they both just went ahead and did their jobs as elected officials.

So, what in the heck happened?

If you ask Miranda, 2016 didn't count. Just as she was getting started with her campaign, she and her husband found out she was pregnant with her third child. The baby was born in August – the couple's third daughter.

"Having a newborn sort of cut into my campaign time,'' Miranda said.

The 28th District covers a lot of territory  - northern suburbs from Winton Woods and Forest Park all the way to Montgomery and Madeira.

But, in the 2018 campaign, she said it was a matter of out-working the opposition; she knocked on 34,000 doors in the district and followed every one of those door-knockings with a postcard hand-written by the candidate.

She says she adhered to a concept that was first adopted by the U.S. Navy in its design programs – K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

"We used the K.I.S.S. method of campaigning,'' said Miranda. "We contacted each voter 5 to 7 times – sometimes with general messages, other times with messages aimed at Democrats."

Elbow grease. Shoe leather. That's her explanation.

Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, has another theory – one that he thinks applies equally as well to former Forest Park Mayor Stephanie Summerow Dumas, who stunned local Republicans into near senselessness at her upset win over Republican county commissioner Chris Monzel.

Triantafilou kept his senses, and gave the question a lot of thought. His conclusion?

"We are suffering through an erosion of support among suburban women,'' Triantafilou said. "And we have to find a way to stop it or it will just get worse."

The GOP, Triantafilou says, has to recruit candidates for local offices who have "crossover appeal" to Democrats and independents. That's what the Democrats have done with any number of candidates over the years – Todd Portune, Denise Driehaus, John Cranley and others. Auditor Dusty Rhodes, the most conservative Democrat you will never meet, is the King of the Crossover Candidates.

"We have to do a better job at educating our candidates to develop a message that resonates beyond the Republican base,'' Triantafilou said. "And we have to have candidates who are aware of the changing demographics in this county. And they are not changing in our favor."

Triantafilou doesn't say it, but what it boils down to is this: If you are going to be a political party that appeals only to white males, get used to losing a lot of elections in the future.

David Niven, a political science professor from the University of Cincinnati, said Miranda's election was somewhat similar to what happened in the 21st Ohio House District in suburban Columbus, where Democrat Beth Liston flipped a seat that had been held by a Republican.

"There was a time when Democrats were not even competitive in that district," Niven said.

Niven agreed with Triantafilou's analysis about the GOP losing its hold on suburban women voters.

"If you look at Jonathan Dever, there was nothing about him that made him stand out as a target,'' Niven said. "He was just another reliable vote for the Republican majority in Columbus. He just blended into the crowd."

When we told Miranda what Triantafilou said about her race against Dever, she seemed genuinely surprised.

"I hadn't thought about it in those terms, but there is probably something to that,'' Miranda said of the GOP losing its influence with many Republican women.

The irony is, they are probably both right.

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

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