Local News
12:00 am
Sun June 9, 2013

GOP donors find a candidate, and he's a Democrat

Poor old Cincinnati Republicans.


They don’t have a mayoral candidate of their own.


There’s John Cranley, Democrat. Roxanne Qualls, Democrat. Jim Berns, Libertarian. And probably a couple more before the June 27 filing deadline for the September 10 mayoral primary.


But nary a Republican.


The Hamilton County Republican Party hunted and hunted and then just gave up hunting and decided that, so be it, this will be an election with no endorsed Republican candidate. Hamilton County commissioner Greg Hartmann flirted with the idea, but didn’t pull the trigger.


After all, it’s a solidly Democratic city – it voted for President Obama and Sen. Sherrod Brown by nearly three-to-one margins last fall.


But still, it would be nice for all those Republican campaign donors out there – and there are a boatload of them in Cincinnati – to have a horse to back in the mayoral race.


Well, all is not lost. Many of the GOP’s most loyal donors have found that candidate in John Cranley, Democrat.


Early on, when Cranley was in the planning stages of his mayoral run, he told WVXU that if the Republicans failed to come up with a candidate, he expected that some of the heavyweights of Republican campaign finance in Cincinnati would come his way.


And, lo, it has come to pass.


On June 19, at the Queen City Club, there will be a Cranley fund-raising event hosted by Bob Coletti, a lawyer at Keating, Muething & Klekamp, and a former chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party’s executive committee and former county party finance chair. He’s also the son-in-law of Richard T. Farmer, the chairman of Cintas who has raised hundreds of millions for Republican causes over the years.


Farmer, in fact, is on the host committee for the Cranley event, as is his son, Scott Farmer, the CEO of Cintas. So too is George Joseph of the Joseph auto group; and a host of other regular GOP donors.


Not that it is an event made up entirely of deep-pocketed Republicans. There are Democrats on the host committee as well – Barbara Gould, a prolific Democratic fundraiser who helped Barack Obama tap into Cincinnati money in both 2008 and 2012; and Mark Vander Laan, a lawyer and long-time Democratic Party supporter.


Cranley has even showed up at fundraising events for Republican candidates, such as a recent event for Amy Murray, a Republican running for city council this year.


In a four-and-a-half minute campaign video on his campaign website, Cranley touches all the bases. There are appearances by former mayor Charlie Luken, a Democrat; council member and NAACP president Christopher Smitherman, former Democratic council member Laketa Cole, who was popular among the city’s African-American voters; and, very prominently, Pete Witte, a Price Hill small business owner and an active, high profile west side Republican.


“Yes, I have Republicans contributing to my campaign; and I have Democrats supporting me, too,’’ Cranley said. “My support is diverse and city-wide.”


The Republican donors, most likely, perceive Cranley as the “conservative” in the race – he is adamantly opposed to the streetcar project, was an active cheerleader in the effort to put a referendum on the November ballot to repeal an ordinance to lease out the parking system to the Port Authority; and a harsh critic of the patchwork budget council just passed to close a $35 million budget shortfall.


On all of those issues, Qualls has been on the other side.


“His rhetoric is a lot more conservative than what a lot of Democrats would like to hear from him,’’ said Jens Sutmoller, who runs Qualls’ mayoral campaign.


Cranley is insistent about one thing – he may be taking Republican money, but he is a Democrat through and through.


“I ran for city council as a Democrat, I ran for Congress twice as a Democrat,’’ Cranley said. “I am and always will be a Democrat.”


When it comes to an issue like the parking lease, Cranley says he is “on the Democratic side, progressive side of that issue. What they want to do is privatize the parking system. Privatization is a Republican idea. And I am opposed to it.”


He parts ways with Republicans on social issues as well.


“I have a big difference with most Republicans in that I am a supporter of gay rights and marriage equality,’’ Cranley said.


Still, the Republican money is flowing his way in this campaign; and will likely continue to do so.


Maybe it’s just Cranley taking a page out of the old playbook of Charlie Luken, who is Cranley’s honorary campaign chairman and has been something of a mentor for Cranley in the ways of politics.  


In the 1980s, when the mayor was the top vote-getter in the council campaign and Luken was winning that title over and over again, the Republican party repeatedly approached Luken about switching parties. He was clearly the most popular politician in the city; and the GOP wanted him on their team, rather than waxing their candidates in every council election.


Luken resisted every GOP advance.


He had a very practical reason to do so.


He could rake in the Republican money for his campaigns – and did so, by the bushel – and use it to win Democratic votes in a Democratic city.


It was the best of both worlds for a Cincinnati politician – Republican money and Democratic votes.


Maybe Cranley has gone to school on his honorary campaign chairman.