Local Candidates Have A Lot Riding On Presidential Race In Hamilton County

Oct 4, 2015

In 2012, Time Magazine did a story based on an interesting premise: that five counties in Ohio – the ultimate swing state, the bellwether of the nation – could decide the presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Yes, Hamilton County was one of them - perhaps the most important of them.

The others were Cuyahoga, Franklin, Stark and Montgomery.

Obama won them; won Ohio; and won a second term in the White House.

Regardless of who the Democrats and the Republicans nominate for president and vice president next year, you can bet Hamilton County is going to be a ground zero county in a ground zero state, once again.

And nobody has a bigger stake in how that presidential election in Hamilton County turns out than the Republicans and Democrats who are running for county offices next year.

It is one thing the leaders of the two political parties in Hamilton County can agree on.

“Our candidates are going to be impacted by the strength of the presidential candidates; and we have benefited from that over the last six presidential elections,’’ said Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party.

His opposite number in the Hamilton County Republican Party, Alex Triantafilou, agrees.

“We need a presidential candidate who is going to be able to unite and excite the party base,’’ Triantafilou said. “And, yes, that will help our candidates on the local level.”

There was a time, not that long ago, when Hamilton County was solidly Republican; and it routinely gave GOP presidential candidates six-figure wins.

Those days are gone.

Hamilton County is no longer Republican “red” or Democratic “blue.” It is a purple county – one that can go either way.

Look at the last four presidential elections – Barack Obama has won Hamilton County twice; and, in 2000 and 2004, it was won by George W. Bush.

Presidential elections bring people out to the polls; those are the only times these days when voter turnout approaches or exceeds 70 percent.

And the county candidates down the ticket can benefit from that.

Not all the candidate positions are filled yet, but here’s the line-up so far:

Hamilton County Commissioner:

Two are up for re-election – Democrat Todd Portune and Republican Greg Hartmann.

Portune is going to be challenged by Andrew Pappas, the Republican trustee from Anderson Township. He’ll get plenty of help from the GOP organization, although it is probably an uphill fight.

The top-of-the-bill contest will be between Hartmann and Democrat Denise Driehaus, who can’t run for re-election to the Ohio House because of term limits.

They are both formidable candidates.

Triantafilou said the party will pull out all the stops on the Hartmann-Driehaus contest.

“That will be the target race,’’ Trianatfilou said. “That will be all hands on deck. We’re going to do to her what (U.S. Rep.) Steve Chabot did to her brother.”

By that, the GOP chairman is referring to the 2010 1st Congressional District campaign. Two years before, Democrat Steve Driehaus beat Chabot, who had held the seat since 1994. In 2010, Chabot came storming back and took the seat away from Driehaus; and has held it ever since.

Burke said the GOP would make a mistake if they underestimate Denise Driehaus.

“Given the lies they told about Steve Driehaus during that campaign, if they want to play that way again, so be it,’’ Burke said. “I can assure you Denise Driehaus will be ready for it.”

There’s going to be some bad blood in this one.

County Recorder:

These are usually quiet affairs; and Democrat Wayne Coates has held the office for two terms now and is going for a third.

But he may have a high-profile Republican opponent.

Cincinnati council member Charlie Winburn has taken out petitions to run for recorder and told WVXU he is “exploring the possibility.”

Another Republican has also pulled petitions for recorder at the Hamilton County Board of Elections is retired judge Norbert Nadel, who couldn’t run for re-election to the bench last year because of Ohio’s judicial age limit law.

Triantafilou is hoping to avoid a costly and divisive primary.

“We obviously want to avoid a primary and we don’t usually endorse in primaries,’’ Triantafilou said. “I’d like to see us come to some kind of resolution on this that avoids a primary.”

Sheriff and County Coroner:

Democrat Jim Neil, who was a 30-year-veteran of the sheriff’s department, pulled an upset victory in 2012 over then-chief deputy Sean Donovan, who was the choice of Republican Sheriff Simon Leis, who was retiring.

At the same time, Democrat Lakshmi Sammarco won the coroner’s office over Republican Pete Kambelos.

Both the Democratic sheriff and coroner are running for re-election.

One Republican has already announced his candidacy for sheriff  - Gary Lee, the former Cincinnati police captain who was commander of District 1. Another, former assistant police chief Vince Demasi, told WVXU last week that he is interested in running. But Demasi said he would have to give up his current job as Mt. Healthy’s police chief to run; and said that weighs heavily in his decision.

Again, Triantafilou is saying he hopes to avoid a primary; and said there are other potential candidates out there.


Republican incumbent Joe Deters is running for re-election. Burke said the party plans to run a candidate against him, but hasn’t found that candidate yet.

Both parties have until Dec. 16 to have their candidates file petitions with the board of election for the March primary.

All of these races will get caught up in the middle of the presidential race that will be raging in Hamilton County and throughout the key swing state of Ohio. Some of them could turn on the results of that race.

Burke said he was talking to a group of College Democrats last week at the University of Cincinnati.

“I told them that I will guarantee you that, by this time next year, both party’s presidential candidates will have been on this campus,’’ Burke said.

Burke is convinced that strong presidential candidates, even those who didn’t win the county, such as Bill Clinton and John Kerry , have helped the local Democratic party get to the point where it holds a number of countywide officers – a county commission seat, recorder, auditor, sheriff and coroner.

“Those days when a Republican candidate for president could count on coming out of Hamilton County with a 100,000 vote margin are dead and gone,’’ Burke said.

What the Republicans in Hamilton County need, Triantafilou said, is a presidential candidate with broad appeal in the party.

“It can’t be someone who is liked by just one faction of the party,’’ Triantafilou said. “It has to be someone who can appeal to all Republicans, and broaden that appeal out to more conservative Democrats and independents.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, of course, is running for the GOP presidential nomination and his presence on the national ticket “would be a good thing. That would energize our voters.

“I can guarantee you that if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, we as Republicans will be pretty energized,’’ Triantafilou said.

But, then again, many Democrats say the same thing about Hillary Clinton.

Both parties, though, share the same nightmare – the nightmare of many voters who show up at the polls, vote for president and skip the rest of the ballot. Honestly, it happens. More than you would think.

And that does neither local party any good.