At Least Democrats In Hamilton County Have Something To Be Happy About

Nov 13, 2016

Naturally, Democrats in Hamilton County were as shocked and disbelieving as Democrats anywhere else Tuesday night when Donald Trump won the White House, even though nearly all the indicators leading up to the election pointed to a Hillary Clinton victory.

It will take them some time to get over that; and some considerable time to figure out how they can fight back, as members of a party that doesn’t control either the executive or legislative branches of government – and are looking warily at what might happen to the judicial branch.

It's a tough pill to swallow.

But, at least in Hamilton County, Democrats have one beacon of light.

They now live in a county that is pretty darned blue. Tuesday's election results made it clear.

We always scratch our heads when we see writers in national publications or talking heads on the cable news networks talk about Hamilton County being a "Republican stronghold."

Are they confusing us with Hamilton County, Tennessee?

This county has been changing slowly but steadily from red to purple to blue for the last several decades.

The last time a Republican presidential candidate won Hamilton County was in 2004, when President George W. Bush came out on top. Since then, the county has lost about 40,000 people and we're guessing that many of them were urban and suburban Republicans who ended up moving to places like Butler and Warren counties, or Northern Kentucky, or who retired and took up residence in sunny climes such as Florida or Arizona.

At any rate, they’re gone. And they took their GOP votes with them.

The transformation to a blue county is pretty much complete.

Consider:

-        While she was losing Ohio as a whole, Clinton won Hamilton County Tuesday night with 52.5 percent of the unofficial vote – marking the third presidential election in a row where the Democratic presidential candidate has won the county.

-        Democrat Denise Driehaus' win over Republican incumbent Dennis Deters in a race for Hamilton County commissioner – combined with Democratic incumbent Todd Portune's easy re-election victory Tuesday – gives the Democrats a majority on the three-member county commission for only the second time in over 40 years.

-        Counting Driehaus and Portune, Democrats won five of eight contested races for county offices – Aftab Pureval for clerk of courts, Jim Neil re-elected sheriff, and Lakshmi Sammarco re-elected coroner.

The only losses among the county offices for the Democrats were county prosecutor, where incumbent Republican Joe Deters was re-elected; county treasurer, where Robert Goering won re-election; and county recorder, where Democratic incumbent Wayne Coates was ousted by former judge Norbet Nadel.

And this is probably the most amazing thing of all: On Tuesday night, Hamilton County Democrats beat candidates named Deters and Winkler.

Various members of the Winkler family have been winning judicial offices for nearly 50 years.

But Tuesday night, a 34-year-old political newcomer named Aftab Pureval came along and knocked off Tracy Winkler, the clerk of courts, whose campaign ran into a buzz saw when City Beat obtained and published e-mails from her chief bailiff pushing employees of the office to get involved in the re-election campaign. Some employees felt threatened by the e-mails.

At any rate, it became a great campaign issue for Pureval, a lawyer for Procter & Gamble whose parents are immigrants from India and Tibet.

And he struck gold again with campaign TV ads featuring the candidate and a duck puppet that would pop up now and then to squawk "Aftab!" Just like the duck in the Aflac commercials.

A great way to sell an unfamiliar name; and it worked.

And then there was Driehaus beating Dennis Deters, the youngest brother of the county prosecutor. Deters got into the race rather late; he was appointed in December after incumbent Republican Greg Hartmann suddenly quit the county commission. By that time, Driehaus, a term-limited state representative, already had plenty of money in the bank and she ended up outspending her opponent.

We asked Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Alex Triantafilou if Hamilton County was now a blue county. He was very frank in his response.

"Yes,'' he said. "When I saw the numbers coming in Tuesday, there was no doubt. I've known it was headed in this direction since I became chairman eight years ago."

As far as the presidential campaign is concerned, Triantafilou said the Trump campaign simply didn't have a grassroots ground game in Hamilton County that could match Clinton.

That, Triantafilous said, is why four years ago, Mitt Romney – while losing Hamilton County to Barack Obama – had 193,000 votes in Hamilton County compared to about just under 170,000 for Trump on Tuesday.

"Joe Deters led the Republican ticket in Hamilton County and he ended up with about 35,000 more votes than Donald Trump did,'' Triantafilou said.

Actually, in Tuesday's unofficial results, the difference between Joe Deters and Trump was 36,485. Even Dennis Deters, who lost his race for county commission, had 19,150 more votes than Trump in Hamilton County.

"Trump was never going to win this county,'' Triantafilou said. "Hillary had the ground game going.

"Our people turned out,'' the county GOP chairman said. "There just wasn't enough of them."

It was not, however, a complete disaster, Triantafilou said. Obviously, Trump won Ohio; and U.S. Senator Rob Portman of Terrace Park coasted to re-election.

The GOP, he said, will do some soul-searching after this election – not to mention some candidate-searching. There are elections for Cincinnati mayor and Cincinnati council next year, as well as nearly every suburban community in the county.

"We're going to evaluate where our votes were and then try to find great candidates to run,'' Triantafilou said.

Triantafilou said the Hamilton County Republican Party has plenty of young, up-and-coming potential stars out in the suburban communities, "but they're not getting much attention. The media focuses on Cincinnati races."

Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke said it is "obvious the county is getting bluer all the time."

"There are some people moving back into the city now who are not necessarily Democrats, but we still dominate the city's politics,'' Burke said.

The election of Trump, Burke said, left a lot of Democrats either angry, depressed or both.

But, he said, "in Hamilton County, we have a lot to celebrate too."