Battles, Large And Small, Will Play Out In March Primary

Dec 20, 2015

  Ohio’s primary election is March 15; and, in southwest Ohio, there’s every reason to believe that both Democrats and Republicans will have good reasons to go to the polls (or vote early).

Let’s deal with the obvious one first, the one every Republican and Democratic voter in the state can help decide – a little thing we like to call the “presidential primary.”

In some presidential years, Ohio’s presidential primary has come too late to make a difference in who the nominees are; in other years, Ohio has been in play as a key state, such as the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton bout in 2008.

Hard to tell where Ohio will fit in by March 15 at this point. But here’s the lay of the land, as of Wednesday’s candidate filing deadline:

Republican presidential primary

An even dozen GOP presidential candidates.

In addition to Ohio governor John Kasich, of course, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and Donald Trump.

Here’s a little piece of information you can take to the bank: By the time March 15 primary rolls around, there will not be 12 candidates still in the race or actively campaigning for the GOP nomination.

Many will have fallen by the wayside between now and then.

You might think that it is a no-brainer that Kasich would win the vote among GOP voters in his home state, but think again.

The latest public poll of Ohio primary voters was back in October, conducted by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. It sort of set Ohio Republican leaders back on their heels because it showed Ohio’s incumbent (and extremely popular) governor running in the GOP pack –behind Trump with 23 percent, Carson with 18 percent, and Kasich with 13 percent.

Poll numbers are a funny thing; they are fluid. It may be an entirely different picture today.

But the other problem Kasich faces is that he has to survive as a candidate through the Iowa caucus (Feb. 1), the New Hampshire primary (Feb. 9), the South Carolina primary (Feb. 20) and the Nevada caucus (Feb. 23).

Kasich’s campaign committee – along with the Super PAC that is supporting his candidacy, New Day for America – has poured millions into New Hampshire; Kasich has clearly made the Granite State the place where he will make his stand.

He has gone so far as to say that if he doesn’t do well in New Hampshire, he might as well pack it up and go home.

Well, the polling doesn’t suggest he is doing all that well in New Hampshire.

Real Clear Politics, a website that tracks and compiles all things political, has an average of the three latest polls done among New Hampshire GOP voters. It shows Trump, Rubio, Christie, and Cruz all ahead of Kasich.

A fifth place finish would not be good enough for Kasich. He is going to have to find a way to leap-frog several candidates between now and Feb. 9, which is only 51 days away.

Not to say it can’t be done. Polls are snapshots. People change their minds; people actually (heaven forbid!) lie to pollsters.

But he had better find a way to break through in New Hampshire or he may be an also-ran in his own state. Although it is hard to imagine Kasich being steam-rolled by Ohio GOP voters.

Democratic presidential primary

Five candidates filed petitions.

Three of them you know of – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley. Two of them you have likely never heard of unless you are a blood relative – Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente and Willie Wilson.

Rocky and Willie – well, neither one of them is going to win the Ohio Democratic Primary.

Clinton is the clear favorite in Ohio – she won here in 2008. But Sanders has a growing cadre of mostly young, progressive voters – some of them young enough to be his grandchildren – who like his positions on student loan debt, climate change and his belief that big money has completely corrupted the political process.

Let’s see what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire – if Sanders does well or even wins one of those states, he could still be a factor by the time of the Ohio primary.

U.S. Senate

Obviously, incumbent Republican Rob Portman is up for re-election.

He faces token opposition in the GOP primary from two political unknowns, Don Elijah Eckhart and Melissa Strzala. He won’t have to lift a finger to win that primary.

The general election is a different kettle of fish, though.

This will be one of the Democrats’ targeted races in their attempt to win back control of the Senate next year.

Pretty much the entire Democratic party establishment, both in Washington and Columbus, are lined up behind former Democratic governor Ted Strickland.

But Cincinnati council member P.G. Sittenfeld is running a long-shot challenge to Strickland as a millennial candidate who represents a new generation and new ideas.

The problem is he has struggled to get his message out, although he now has a Super PAC helping him. The last Quinnipiac Poll had 86 percent of Ohioans saying they don’t know enough about him to form an opinion.

A third candidate, Kelli Prather, whose campaign slogan is “Creating Equality Through Unity,” filed to run in the Democratic primary. But voters have no idea who she is; and she doesn’t have much time to tell them.

If, in fact, Strickland wins, expect to see massive amounts of money pouring into Ohio on both sides. The same holds true if Sittenfeld pulls off a buzzer-beater and wins the primary. Both parties want this seat badly.

And it could be influenced by the presidential election as well. One thing the Portman campaign has been doing is targeting swing voters who may well vote for a Democrat for president but could be convinced to vote for a Republican for Senate.

Hamilton County

We never thought we would ever say this, but there could be an interesting race for county recorder this year.

On the Republican side, Cincinnati council member Charlie Winburn, after playing a little hide-the-pea game over whether or not he was running for county commissioner or county recorder, opted for the latter.

And he will face a primary opponent in retired judge Norbert Nadel who has been on ballots for decades and has pretty good name recognition.

The Hamilton County Republican Party hates primaries but it looks like this one will happen.

And the winner faces Democrat Wayne Coates, who won in 2008 and 2012 when Barack Obama was winning the county at the presidential level. We are sure he is hoping Hillary Clinton has the same kind of coattails.

As for the county commission race, Greg Hartmann, the two-term Republican county commissioner, surprised many when he suddenly decided recently he wouldn’t run for re-election. Both Winburn and council member Christopher Smitherman, an independent, thought about running on the GOP side, but both took a pass.

Three Republicans jumped in with both feet – Colerain Township Trustee Dennis Deters (brother of county prosecutor Joe Deters), former Madeira Mayor Mary Anne Christie, and Raj Rajagopal, a party activist who works in the probation department.

But Christie dropped out of the race Friday. And party sources say Rajagopal may do the same. Republican sources told WVXU that there is a strong possibility Hartmann may leave the commissioner's office early - as in very soon - and that the Hamilton County Republican Party would appoint Deters to take his place, so he could run this fall as an incumbent county commissioner. 

If that happens, Deters would face Democrat Denise Driehaus, who is term-limited out of the Ohio House,  in the November general election.

And speaking of Driehaus, her 31st Ohio House District – a heavily Democratic district – has drawn a crowd of Democrats who want to replace her. Six filed petitions – former council member Paul Booth, former council candidate Brian Garry, former council candidate Nicholas Hollan, former Norwood council member Brigid Kelly, Ben Lindy of Teach for America; and dentist Paul Sohi.

Kelly appears to be the front-runner, with a boatload of endorsements from labor unions and others, including Driehaus herself.

Butler County and the 8th Ohio Congressional District

This is hard to wrap your head around: No less than 17 Republicans filed petitions to run for John Boehner's  seat.  He resigned in October from the speakership and from the House.

But, in a surprise, one of the best known of the contenders pulled out of the race - Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, who had substantial support among the leadership of the Butler County GOP. Reynolds said he decided he couldn't balance the job of raising his family with running for, and possibly winning, a congressional seat; and chose his family over politics. 

Reynolds threw his support to State Rep. Tim Derickson of Hanover Township, another of the top tier candidates.  State Sen. Bill Beagle of Miami County in the northern end of the district is also considered a top tier candidate.

This is one of the most heavily Republican districts in the state; and it widely assumed that the winner of the March special primary will win the June 7 special general election to fill out Boehner’s term. But if that person wants to keep the seat, he’ll have to run again in the fall for a two-year term.

One of the most interesting primary contests is in Butler County, where three Republicans are running for the 51st Ohio House District seat.

That district includes Hamilton, Fairfield, Ross Township and parts of Fairfield, Hanover and St. Clair Townships.

It became very interesting a while back when the Butler County Republican Party’s executive committee decided to endorse former state representative Courtney Combs over the incumbent in the 51st District, Wes Retherford.

Former Butler County commissioner and Hamilton mayor Greg Jolivette pulled petitions to run for the House seat, but didn’t file them.

So Combs and Retherford will be going head-to-head in this heavily Republican district. Bare knuckles.

There are plenty more primary battles to come, but we’ll take a look at them next Sunday.

Suffice it to say, everyone in Ohio has a reason to vote on March 15.