City Councilman Charlie Winburn may have pulled petitions to run for Cincinnati mayor, but both parties agree that he, or any Republican for that matter, would have a tough time winning in 2017.
A younger, more diverse population has shifted the city more Democratic in recent years. So much so that Hamilton County was one of the few places Hillary Clinton outperformed in Ohio during the presidential race, winning by wider margins here than President Barack Obama did in both 2008 and 2012.
So local Republicans are in no hurry to put up a candidate to run against a well-funded, moderate Democratic incumbent like Mayor John Cranley.
“As far as Cincinnati goes, for a conservative like me, he is about as good as we’re going to get,” former Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, said of Cranley.
Other media outlets had rumored Hartmann to be a possible GOP mayoral candidate. Not so, he says.
“It’s already a crowded field and it’s a significantly Democratic city,” Hartmann said. “If things were really broken, that would be a reason to run. But, I think the city is on the right track. The mayor is doing a good job. I don’t see a legitimate reason to run.”
So far no Republican has announced a run for mayor.
While Winburn may have pulled petitions to run for mayor earlier this week, it is uncertain if he will actually file them and officially jump in the race.
“Any time Charlie Winburn pulls petitions I always take it with a grain of salt,” said Kevin Tighe, founder of Stratis Campaigns, who was finance director for Denise Driehaus’ successful campaign for Hamilton County Commission.
“We all heard that Winburn had pulled petitions to run for county commissioner and he ended up running for recorder,” Tighe said.
In 2016 Winburn lost in the Republican primary for county recorder to former judge Norbert Nadel, who also won the general election. He still had yet to pay off $120,000 in campaign debts following the race, campaign finance records show.
Winburn did not return requests for comment regarding his potential candidacy for mayor. He is term limited from running again for City Council.
“If (Winburn) does run, I’ll have two left-wing candidates and one right-wing candidate and I’m right in the middle,” Cranley said. “I’m a proud problem-solving moderate and I think that’s what the majority of Cincinnatians want -- to focus on them and not focus on extreme political ideology.”
So far two Democrats have announced they will run against Cranley – City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and former University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees Chairman Rob Richardson. Both are considered to favor more progressive policies than Cranley.
For his part, Cranley has to walk a fine line between appealing to traditional Democrats, and keeping the support of the Republican business community.
“I’m not saying I’m not a proud Democrat; I am,” Cranley said. “I was a major supporter of Hillary Clinton, and I have my political views, but in local government it is about getting the job done.”
Many big-name Republicans are donors to Cranley’s campaign, such as Craig Lindner, Bob Castellini, Tom Williams and Chip Gerhardt.
Already Cranley has raised more than $700,000, and that number is expected to rise with new campaign finance filings in late January.
Cranley’s fundraising ability and appeal with moderate Republicans may be enough to deter a strong GOP candidate from stepping forward.
In an interview with WCPO last month, Hamilton County Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou said he would only want to see a credible GOP mayoral candidate with a strong chance of winning ask for donations from the business community.
And he seems tepid in his support for Winburn.
“Apparently, Charlie attended the kickoff for (Democrat mayoral candidate) Rob Richardson,” Triantafilou wrote in a text message Wednesday. “This kind of mixed message concerns us. Charlie is either a Republican or for Richardson.”
After tough election losses in November, Triantafilou said he would spend much of 2017 prepping candidates for future countywide office runs.
His top priority this year is a different city race: fighting for Councilwoman Amy Murray’s re-election. She is a rising star in the party and many political insiders speculate she’d be a good fit on the statewide ticket. But she needs to keep her council job to continue that rise in the ranks.
“If there is no Republican on the ballot, John will benefit from that,” said county Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke.
“It would take very unusual circumstances for a Republican to win in the city of Cincinnati … it is a very Democratic city now,” Burke said.