Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s sudden decision not to run for a third-term next year leaves the county Republican party scrambling for a replacement.
The filing deadline for candidates in the March 15 primary is Dec. 16 – 23 days from now.
“We have accomplished much in my time here, but it’s time for me to move on,’’ Hartmann said in a press release issued at midnight Monday. “Hamilton County is a better place than I found it upon entering public office in 2003. We have great days ahead of us here, due in some part by the tough choices we have made as a commission.”
Hartmann had already raised about $300,000 for a re-election bid next year against Democratic challenger Denise Driehaus, who is term-limited out of her Ohio House seat. Hartmann could hang on to that money for some future campaign for office, which he did not rule out in his press release.
GOP leaders have called the Hartmann-Driehaus race their top priority, aside from winning Hamilton County for the GOP presidential nominee and helping to re-elect U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
Hartmann told WVXU Monday that he believes that he "was in a good position to gain re-election" and believes the seat can remain in Republican hands.
"I do believe that a Republican can win this race countywide,'' Hartmann said. ""But it's going to be tough. Running in a presidential year is a challenge; and there's a lot of turmoil on our side of the aisle right now when it comes who our presidential candidate is going to be."
Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Alex Triantafilou said Monday morning that the decision of Hartmann – a close personal friend of the chairman – was simply a matter of him “wanting to move on.”
“He felt like he was getting stagnant in the job and didn’t want to do that,’’ Triantafilou said. "You have to respect that decision."
Hartmann was the county clerk of courts before being elected county commissioner in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. In both of his previous races, he faced only token opposition, but that was not going to be the case this year. Democrats believe Driehaus can win the seat; and give the Democrats a majority on the three-member county commission.
The party could put a “placeholder” on the primary ballot – a little-known candidate who would agree to withdraw after the primary in favor of a better-known and better funded candidate.
Or a well-known, well-funded candidate could step forward in the next 23 days.
Triantafilou said he does not know who the candidate will be at this point.
“All I can say is we want to avoid a contested primary,’’ Triantafilou said.
Cincinnati city council member Charlie Winburn, a Republican who can’t run for re-election in 2017 under the city’s term limits law, has already taken out petitions for to run for county recorder against Democratic incumbent Wayne Coates.
But Winburn could easily switch to the county commission race. Another possible GOP contender for the county commission seat is Cincinnati council member Amy Murray.
Hartmann told WVXU Monday that "we have two Republicans on Cincinnati city council who are very talented."
If there is a primary, though, Hartmann said he wouldn't be endorsing anyone for his seat.
Driehaus told WVXU that while she was surprised by Hartmann's decision, it doesn't matter to her who her opponent is.
"For me, it has never been about who I was running against; it is about the county and the position,'' said Driehaus. "It doesn't change my thinking about this race. I'm all in. I have no idea who might fill that spot on the other side."