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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.

Commentary: Do Suburban Women In Hamilton County Have Trump-itis?

politicians in red ties
Monzel photo by Sarah Ramsey for WVXU; all others AP

The last few elections in Hamilton County have been good for women candidates.

Democratic women, mostly. Republican women, not that much.

For example:

  • In 2016, a term-limited Democratic state representative, Denise Driehaus, ran against an appointed Republican county commissioner, Dennis Deters, who used the name "Dennis Joseph Deters" in that election in an attempt to glom on to the popularity of his big brother, Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters. Didn't work so well.
  • Then, just last November, Jessica Miranda, a mother, businesswoman and president of the Winton Woods school board, took on a two-term Republican state representative in Jonathan Dever. She ended up winning by 56 votes. That's not much, but it's a distinct improvement over the Democrat's showing against Dever in 2016, when she lost by 9,290.
  • Then, maybe the craziest thing of all: Republican Chris Monzel was running for re-election last fall against an obscure (and almost invisible) Democrat in Stephanie Summerow Dumas, the former mayor of Forest Park. It looked like a short chip shot and a two-foot putt for Monzel, but he ended up losing to Dumas by 12,210 votes.

Even a decade ago, this would have seemed impossible – Hamilton County turning blue. If you had suggested this 25 years ago, you would have been called insane. I know; I did suggest that 25 years ago.

Republican women – the ones who are active in the party, either as candidates, campaign managers or volunteers – know exactly what is going on.

So too, does the chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, Alex Triantafilou, who has said repeatedly since last November's election that the Republican Party in Hamilton County is losing its grip on suburban women. Not long ago, they were the Rock of Gibraltar for the Hamilton County GOP.

Now it seems that many of them are tired of looking at candidates who are white, middle-aged men in suits. With red neckties.

Since early 2016, there has been a GOP organization called SHELeads, founded by former Madeira Mayor Mary Anne Christie, longtime party activists Diane Cunningham Redden and Nan Cahall, along with others. Its job is to not only recruit women to run for local offices but to get them the training and skills they need to run successful campaigns.

"What we have done is create a female group to support female candidates – Republican, of course,'' Cahall said. "and this is going to be a critical year for us. There are dozens of local races on the ballot – the villages; the townships; the suburban cities.

"We already hold a lot of seats in suburban government in Hamilton County,'' Cahall said. "But now, we have an opportunity to grow that."

Cahall points to some progress in the party – the Hamilton County GOP just named businesswoman Nancy Aichholz, who ran unsuccessfully for county auditor last fall, as the party's new finance chair – the first woman ever to be put in charge of raising party money for the GOP.

And Jenny Kilgore, a Republican from Glendale, won an upset victory over Democrat incumbent Pat Bruns for the Ohio Board of Education.

Cahall said 21 of the 23 SHELeads candidates on the ballot last fall won their elections – although most of them were incumbents.

"This is really a tough environment for Hamilton County Republicans,'' Cahall said. "And the one thing women candidates don't have is the support system that male candidates do. We're trying to even the playing field."

One impediment to Republican women running in Hamilton County is the fellow in the White House. If anyone thinks that Donald Trump has only alienated Democratic and independent women they should think again.

SHELeads' Redden is blunt about what one of the major impediments GOP candidates in this increasingly blue county face – the Trump factor.

"There are a lot of women voters who might support our candidates but they have Trump-itis,'' Redden said. "They might like some of the things he does, but they can't stand the man. The way he behaves."

There is one very good way around for Republican women running for office in Hamilton County – steer clear of Trump. Talk about local issues. Talk about fixing potholes. Talk about holding taxes down. Talk about wasteful government spending. Talk about Republican stuff.

But don't let your micro-world race for a seat on the township trustees or the village council get de-railed by a debate over Donald Trump.

Donald Trump will not be spreading asphalt on your township roads any time soon.

politically speaking bio
Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.


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