Local Candidates Have A Lot Riding On The Presidential Contest

Apr 3, 2016

For local political party leaders, the trouble with presidential election years is that they don't happen in a vacuum.

While there is no more important decision voters will make on Nov. 8 than who will be the 45th President of the United States, a county party chairman has to worry about all the down-ticket races as well – the county commissioners, the county office-holders, the local judgeships.

And, ideally, whether the county party chairs are Republican or Democratic, they have to pay close attention as to whether their parties' presidential candidates are going to lift their down-ticket candidates or be millstones around the necks of their innocent-victim local candidates.

Hamilton County is certainly no exception.

This is a county which presidential pundits and professionals across the country watch very carefully as a bellwether in presidential elections.

In the past two presidential contests, Hamilton County went for Barack Obama – something that would have been unimaginable a couple of decades ago when Hamilton County still had this reputation of being a rock-ribbed Republican, fire-engine red county.

Well, these days, it may not be blue, but it has clearly turned a bright shade of purple.

And the Obama wins in 2008 and 2012, pulled off, in large part, by the grassroots work of Obama's political arm, Organizing for America, certainly helped drag some Democrats into county offices that had previously been dominated by Republicans – Democrat Wayne Coates as county recorder in 2008, Democrats Lakshmi Sammarco for coroner and Jim Neil for sheriff in 2012.

Clearly, the Obama get-out-the-vote ground game had an impact on those races.

So, what about this year's presidential campaign? What impact might it have on a raft of county races?

Let's start with this premise – that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee and that Hillary Clinton is going to win the Democratic nomination.

Before all the Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and John Kasich fans have a fit – this is not our prediction. We're just assuming it for the sake of argument.

Trump has had a very bad week; and there are some rather large cracks showing up in his so-far impenetrable Teflon coating. The smart money says Cruz is going to defeat Trump Tuesday in Wisconsin, which could slow down Trump's freight train considerably and make him seem less inevitable.

Still, Trump has the lead in delegates so far – 736 to 463 for Cruz, and only 143 for Kasich. There are 943 delegates still up for grabs, which means that Trump would have to win 501 of them to reach the magic number of 1,237 delegates. If he reaches that number, he wins. Hands down. If he comes up short – well, the GOP is going have a mess on its hands at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

Clinton seems to be in a bit of a stronger position, with 1,712 delegates to 1,011 for Sanders. She needs 2,383 to win the nomination and there are 2,042 still available.

Hamilton County has a number of competitive local races – Democrat Denise Driehaus versus incumbent Republican Dennis Deters for county commissioner, Republican Norbert Nadel against Coates for county recorder, Republican Gary Lee, a former Cincinnati Police district captain, taking on Democratic incumbent Neil, who probably didn't help himself by showing up at a Donald Trump rally in West Chester two days before the Ohio primary. Neil had to explain that he was there because Trump was a supporter of the police; and that he is, in fact, a Democrat and will support Clinton.

And there are others that could become interesting. 

Alex Triantafilou, the chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, will be in Cleveland as a Kasich delegate, although he says he will support whoever his party nominates.

But the idea of Trump at the top of the ticket unsettles him a bit.

There's no doubt, too, that he has also seen the recent CNN poll that says 73 percent of women voters nationwide have a negative view of Trump. Not really good, especially if you are running against a woman for president.

"I wouldn't be honest with you if I said I'm not worried about the candidacy of Donald Trump,'' Triantafilou said. "He's a non-traditional candidate.

"But I know from the primary results here, where there was a huge Republican turnout, that there is going to be high intensity among our voters in this election,'' Triantafilou said. "This notion that  a lot of Republicans are going to stay home if Trump is the nominee – I just don't buy it."

Triantafilou said he was encouraged to see that Trump - who has suggested he wouldn't support Cruz or Kasich – met Thursday in Washington with Reince Priebaus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

After the meeting, Trump tweeted out that he "just had a very nice meeting with @reincepriebus and @GOP. Looking forward to bringing the Party together – and it will happen!"

Triantafilou said he hopes Priebus and Trump will continue to meet.

In the end, Triantafilou said Kasich would obviously be a better candidate to be at the top of the ticket for the Hamilton County slate of GOP candidates.

"But if not, I just tell our candidates to go out and run their own campaigns, raise money and that they will have the full backing of the party,'' Triantafilou said.

Triantafilou's opposite number in the Hamilton County Democratic Party, Tim Burke, said he is "pretty certain" Clinton will be the nominee; and he sees that as a good thing for his candidates.

"Hillary Clinton will have a different kind of ground game than Barack Obama had, but it will be one that will help the local candidates as well,'' Burke said. "I don't see Hillary opening six campaign offices in Hamilton County as the Obama folks did.

"But she will run a campaign more like Bill Clinton, working with the state party and local parties to do the grassroots work,'' Burke said. "I think it's going to work in the favor of our candidates."

But, of course, first we have to have more primaries and the conventions before we know for certain who will be at the top of the major party tickets.

One way or another, though, it will have an impact on the local races.

You have heard of trickle-down economics, of course.

This is trickle-down politics.