© 2023 Cincinnati Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Analysis: Can Democrat David Mann Succeed In Mayoral Primary By Wooing GOP Voters?

david mann christopher smitherman
Mann for Mayor
"Yard sign delivered!" Mann captioned this photo on his campaign Facebook page. "Thank you Vice Mayor Smitherman for your endorsement!" Christopher Smitherman is an Independent.

I have known Cincinnati mayoral candidate David Mann for nearly 40 years – as a City Council member, as mayor, as a one-term congressman, and as an old-fashioned Democratic liberal.

But the one thing I never thought I would see is conservative Republicans – a minority in this heavily Democratic city – going out of their way to vote for Mann for mayor in the six-candidate field that is on the May 4 primary ballot.

I am convinced it is happening. There is evidence out there that it is happening in the early in-person voting at the Hamilton County Board of Elections and in the early mail-in absentee voters who are carried on the voting rolls as Republicans.

And I am sure it is happening among voters who are carried on the rolls as non-partisan voters.

Mann's campaign is targeting these voters; he is out there soliciting their support.

"We target everybody, regardless of party affiliation,'' Mann told me. "Folks who are not Democrats deserve to have somebody to vote for. And we have a very diverse community. I plan to represent all Cincinnatians as mayor, not just people of one party."

Of the other five mayoral candidates, not one is a Republican. There are four Democrats in addition to Mann – Aftab Pureval, Cecil Thomas, Gavi Betrup and Raffel Prophett – and one Independent, Herman Najoli.

The Hamilton County Republican Party could not find a credible candidate to run for mayor and has instead decided to concentrate on this fall's City Council election, especially in electing the GOP's three appointed council members, Betsy Sundermann, Steve Goodin and Liz Keating.

All three of whom, by the way, are supporting Mann for mayor.

Credit Mann for Mayor / Facebook
David Mann with, clockwise from top left Liz Keating, Betsy Sundermann and Steve Goodin, all Republican council members.

If you don’t believe that, go to Mann's campaign Facebook page, where you will find photos of Mann with Sundermann, Goodin and Keating, putting up Mann for Mayor signs in their front yards. You'll also find photos of Mann doing the same with two well-known Independents, Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman and former council member Kevin Flynn.

david mann kevin flynn
Credit Mann for Mayor / Facebook
Mann and former council member Kevin Flynn. In December 2020, Flynn announced he plans to run for City Council in 2021 as an Independent.

Optics really do count in politics.

Now, mind you, the Hamilton County Republican Party has not and will not formally endorse Mann for mayor.

But the county GOP chairman, Alex Triantafilou, tells me that when he is asked by Republicans in the city who they should support for mayor, he tells them to vote for David Mann.

"I can tell you that if I lived in the city, I'd be voting for Mann for mayor,'' said Triantafilou, who calls Green Township his home.

"He is the adult in the room when we desperately need one,'' Triantafilou said. "It's as much about stature and integrity as it is about issues. There are many issues where I disagreed with David Mann over the years, but, of the six who are running, he is clearly the one I'd choose to do the job."

Sundermann even wrote an op-ed piece that ran in the Enquirer April 18 entitled, This Republican Wants You To Vote For David Mann.

Saying that her family has known the Manns for 40 years, Sundermann writes that "citizens are rightfully wary of politicians and our motives, making it more important than ever to elect a mayor with a record of putting the needs of Cincinnati citizens before his own.

"David has been a public servant for decades and has never once used his position to benefit himself personally … Cincinnati needs an ethical, experienced person to lead us out of the wake of mass corruption from this past year."

So, does it make sense for an 81-year-old liberal Democrat in his sixth decade in politics to be out chasing GOP voters in a Cincinnati mayoral race?

Yes. Yes, I think it does.

Here's the logic:

We start with the assumption that somewhere between 20-25% of the voting population in Cincinnati is Republican.

This is likely to be a pretty low turnout election. Since Cincinnati began direct election of the mayor in 2001, the turnout in previous mayoral primaries has ranged from 12% to 18%. It may kick up a bit with Issue 3 on the ballot, the charter amendment that would require the city to invest $50 million a year into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

The majority of city-dwelling Republicans who do show up for the primary are likely there to vote against Issue 3, because they believe it will mean either cuts in city services or an increase in taxes. And while they are at it, they may well follow the advice of party leaders and vote for Mann for mayor.

If Mann scores a majority of the Republicans and a sizeable number of Independent voters and combines that with the votes of older Democrats who remember his service on council and in Congress decades ago, that could be enough to make Mann one of the top two finishers in the primary and allow him to go on to a head-to-head race for mayor in November.

As a campaign strategy, it makes perfect sense.

We'll see on May 4 if it actually works.

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.