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Commentary: Can The GOP Take Back Hamilton County? It's Going To Try

aftax sales tax petition
Howard Wilkinson
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou stands with supporters and a stack of signed sales tax repeal petitions in Cincinnati in July 2018.

Alex Triantafilou, the chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, would be well-pleased on the morning of Saturday, June 22, if the traffic on Chester Road in Sharonville is bumper-to-bumper with cars trying to make their way into the parking lot of the Sharonville Convention Center.

Triantafilou wants the convention center to be packed with hundreds – maybe thousands – of enthusiastic GOP faithful ready to do battle with the Democrats in 2020.

He's calling it "The GOP 500: The Hamilton County GOP/Trump Race to Victory," and it is being held exactly 500 days before the 2020 general election.

"This is my baby,'' Triantafilou told WVXU. "I want this to be huge."

Alex Triantafilou does not lack the ability to fire up a crowd, but he is also grounded in reality.

He knows 2020 is going to be a very tough row to hoe for the GOP.

And the reality is that for the first time in anyone's living memory, Hamilton County enters a presidential campaign cycle as the underdog.

This county is now Democratic blue. Period. End of story.

"That's why we don't have to have a great big rally to get our people excited,'' said Gwen McFarlin, chairwoman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. "Our people have always rallied around our candidates."

Other than this county having turned blue, how else do you explain Hamilton County going for the Democratic presidential candidate three times in a row – Barack Obama twice, and Hillary Clinton in 2016, despite the fact that Donald Trump won Ohio handily and practically took up residence in southwest Ohio during the campaign?

Trump was in these parts so much he was nearly able to vote here. And how else do you explain the Board of Hamilton County Commissioners going entirely Democratic for the first time since dinosaurs walked the Earth?

Or an underdog Democrat like Jessica Miranda knocking off an establishment Republican for state representative in the 28th Ohio House District? Even if it was only by 56 votes out of about 155,000 cast?

"I realize there are a lot of tough races coming up,'' Triantafilou said. "That's why I want to get our people out there working for our candidates early. Five-hundred days early."

But neither party in Hamilton County is anywhere near putting together a complete slate of candidates for county offices and state legislative seats. Most of that will happen after this November's election, where county voters will elect city, village and township officials, along with a number of municipal court judgeships.

Triantafilou has been talking to President Trump's political staff and there is a possibility they may send a surrogate to the Sharonville event. But if you think the president is coming, think again.

"No, there's really no chance of having the president here,'' Triantafilou said. "If he wanted to stop by, he would be welcome, but that's not going to happen."

Triantafilou is right. Trump generally travels for his own MAGA events, or to push a particular GOP House or Senate candidate he thinks he needs. Donald Trump has his own agenda.

Which is OK by the Hamilton County Republican Party. They want to give their slate of county candidates an organizational boost, even though they don't yet know who most of their candidates will be.

So what will the local party's priority be in next year's local elections?

Alex Triantafilou has three words for you.

"Joe, Joe and Joe,'' Triantafilou said. "That's our priority."

"Joe," of course, is long-time Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph T. Deters. Deters still has his fans in the county, but he knows perfectly well what is happening to the demographics of this county and he knows it is not good for the GOP.

joe deters
Credit John Minchillo / AP
Joe Deters in 2017.

"I'm realistic about this,'' Deters said. "Some people in office think they are just going to be handed another term. I know I am going to have to work for it."

Deters has gone from an election in 2008 when he had no Democratic opponent whatsoever to his latest re-election campaign where he had 54 percent of the vote against a much lesser-known candidate in Democrat Alan C. Triggs.

He's not taking anything for granted this time.

Within the next few weeks, Deters will hold a massive fundraising event he expects will raise $400,000 to $500,000.

"I'm thinking I am going to need to raise $1 million to be re-elected,'' Deters said.

Incumbents often say such things to scare off potential opponents, but there is no doubt Deters can raise $1 million if he thinks he needs it.

And there is no doubt the GOP wants him back. After all, the man has about 180 people in his employ.

McFarlin said the Democrats haven't really started trying to find their candidate for prosecutor yet.

"There is time for that,'' she said.

Two of the three members of the all-Democratic county commission are up for re-election next year – Todd Portune and Denise Driehaus. The GOP is still in the process of looking for candidates to run for the county commission seats, so they can at least get a foothold again on the board of commissioners.

In 2018, Stephanie Summerow Dumas, former mayor of Forest Park, stunned Republicans and Democrats alike, by coming out of nowhere to defeat Republican county commissioner Chris Monzel.

Monzel can't try again for commissioner until 2022, but there is much speculation that next year he will take on Democrat Jessica Miranda for the 28th Ohio House District, which stretches across northern Hamilton County. After all, Miranda only won that seat from GOP incumbent Jonathan Devers by 56 votes.

McFarlin said the Republicans are once again underestimating Miranda, who knocked on 30,000 doors in the district in 2018.

"No one will work harder than Jessica,'' McFarlin said. "They will find that out the hard way."

There are also 13 judgeships up for election in 2020, including nine that the Republicans will have to defend from Democratic challengers and two that will be open seats.

"There are competitive races across the board,'' Triantafilou said. "And we start out behind. Five-hundred days should give us plenty of time to catch up."

politically speaking 2
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.