Will Yvette Simpson or John Cranley be named city's next mayor? Here are early clues to watch

CINCINNATI -- Want to watch the early results of the Cincinnati mayor and council race like a political insider?

Here are some early clues political experts say they'll be watching for once polls close at 7:30 p.m. These tips could reveal who ultimately wins the race for mayor between Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and Mayor John Cranley, and the nine seats on Cincinnati City Council. 

Keep track of election results throughout the day here

Here’s what they said:

Early voting results are important   

Pay close attention to the first results that come in – early votes could foreshadow what happens at the end of the night, said Sean Comer, a political science professor at Xavier University. 

“Last time in early vote, John was pretty far ahead," Comer said. "In 2013 he had almost twice as many votes (as challenger Roxanne Qualls).”

The early vote results will be important for council, too, where winners and losers could be divided by fewer than 100 votes.

“Where the candidates are, relative to each other after early vote, will be largely indicative of how the race turns out,” said Chip Gerhardt, a Republican consultant who runs Cincinnati-based Government Strategies Group.

Watch neighborhood results             

Some candidates’ election hopes depend on high turnout in certain neighborhoods.

“The race is going to hinge on turnout," Gerhardt said. "Not just citywide turnout – community turnout.”

For Republican candidates Amy Murray, Seth Maney and Jeff Pastor to perform well, turnout in Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Mount Washington and California needs to be high, Gerhardt said.

Just as important is voter turnout in the city’s central neighborhoods, situated between Interstates 71 and 75. If many voters from neighborhoods such as Avondale, Evanston and Bond Hill show up at the polls, it could give a boost to progressive Democrats and African American candidates to perform strongly.

“If you have a heavy turnout up-the-gut of Cincinnati, that bodes well for Democrats,” Gerhardt said.

And city council candidate Henry Frondorf is counting on strong turnout in the West Side.

Frondorf has been working doors to get the 20,000 voters – 10 percent of the city’s registered voters – living in his neighborhood of Westwood to show up to the polls.

“Henry Frondorf – he’s the West Side guy,” Gerhardt said.

But these neighborhoods might be the most important

Look to Madisonville’s results to see if John Cranley or Yvette Simpson will be the city’s next mayor, said campaign strategist Kevin Tighe.

RELATED: What neighborhoods matter most in the race for mayor, city council?

Why Madisonville?

It’s a racially diverse neighborhood that’s seen an influx of new businesses and jobs – such as the MedPace development, which has brought in hundreds of jobs since it relocated its headquarters here in 2011. So, Cranley’s message that Cincinnatians have enjoyed momentum under his lead for the last four years will be put to the test there, Tighe said.

“Progress has been made,” Tighe said of Madisonville. “If the mayor’s able to make some in-roads because of stuff like that, it could be pretty telling.”

Comer said to watch early voting results in key wards, such as Ward 7 in Roselawn and Bond Hill.

How Simpson performs here is key. She has to reverse what happened in the 2013 mayoral race, because Cranley took 65 percent of the vote in Ward 7.

“She has to win and she has to win big,” Comer said.

Comer also said to watch swing wards in College Hill and Madisonville.

“For Yvette Simpson to win, it has to stay close in those swing wards, and she has to pick up African American votes,” Comer said. “For John to win, he has to widen the gap in those areas.”

Republican votes are key

In the May mayoral primary, Election Day results from Republican-leaning neighborhoods came in first.

That tends to be the trend, said Tighe, so Cranley needs to have a big lead early in the night when results from those first few precincts come in to win another term as mayor.

Republican voters turned out and helped push Cranley to a win in 2013. But they didn’t show up in May.

“If they feel disengaged, or they're still upset by Cranley naming Cincinnati a sanctuary city, this will not help him in conservative areas,” Comer said.

Pay attention to how city council members are fairing in early returns. If Republican Amy Murray is outperforming and cracks the top four, it means the GOP vote turned out, Comer added.

Early voting numbers so far show Republicans are turning in slightly fewer absentee ballots – 1 percent -- than they did in 2013. Republicans made up 22 percent of absentee returns as of Monday. 

Gerhardt said Republicans could make that up on Election Day.

“In last year’s election, every Republican performed better on Election Day than in early voting,” Gerhardt said.

Will Cranley or Simpson allies perform better?

“Keep an eye on candidates who put themselves out on a limb for their perspective mayoral candidates,” Comer said.

For example, if Councilman Chris Seelbach is doing well with voters, it could be a good night for Simpson, since the two are allies.

This year, however, is different from years past because many candidates have stayed away from publicly endorsing anyone in the mayor’s race, Gerhardt said. So while political insiders might know which council candidates are aligned with Cranley or Simpson, the average voter doesn't.

He believes most people will vote for each individual candidate, not a “slate” associated with the mayoral candidates.

“I don’t think it’s Team Cranley vs. Team Simpson,” Gerhardt said.

Tighe said campaign finance reports also reveal many donors are giving money to candidates who aren’t aligned with one another, and also making donations across party lines.

“Most council candidates have focused on their own race, and not on the mayoral race,” Tighe said. “You look at the donor reports, the people who are giving to Cranley are also giving to different candidates.”

Forget everything we just said

With 23 people running for nine open seats, anything could happen on Election Day.

Some winners and losers could be divided by a handful of votes – making this a hard race to predict.

“With a nine-person field, it’s nearly impossible to apply a rule of thumb,” Tighe said. “Or, the rule of thumb is - there is no rule of thumb.” 

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