Republicans across the state are teaming up to make Democrat Denise Driehaus’ bid for the Hamilton County Commission seat a lot tougher.
Driehaus, who is hoping to unseat Republican Dennis Deters in the county’s most expensive and anticipated race this fall, is facing an influx of volunteers as well as money from the state GOP to block her chances of winning.
The local race is one of just a few statewide races to get this much attention from the party, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges admits.
"This is the largest urban county where the Republicans still control the commission," Borges said. "We lost it once a few years ago, and won it back."
The state party’s involvement will allow Deters to tap into a donor network across Ohio.
In recent weeks, the Ohio GOP has sent their finance director to help coordinate fundraising efforts. A fundraiser at an Indian Hill home earlier this month brought in roughly $250,000, Borges said. The state party is orchestrating another big fundraiser in Columbus early next month.
Borges wouldn’t put a price on how much the state party plans to spend on Deters’ race, but money will come into play, he said.
“It does not happen very often where they target a specific race,” Hamilton County Republican Chairman Alex Triantafilou said of the state party’s involvement in down-ballot elections. “For them to focus on one race like this, it definitely highlights the significance.”
With few of the statehouse seats and none of the congressional races being competitive in Ohio, the Republicans – who also enjoy control of the statewide offices, too – can open up their wallets for low-level races this election.
Democrats, and Driehaus in particular, are in a tighter spot. The Ohio Democratic Party doesn’t plan to throw cash into Driehaus’ campaign, instead focusing on voter turnout efforts across Ohio, which they hope will translate into wins for everyone from Hillary Clinton to Driehaus.
“Our best investment is getting the highest voter turnout possible,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said. “We’ve been investing in this race for a year – the whole ground game, get out the vote effort.”
The race to control the commission, which oversees the sheriff’s office budget and manages the children’s services agency, will likely be the most expensive in county history. The two campaigns are on track to spend nearly $2 million on their effort.
Latest fundraising reports from either candidate won’t be available until the end of October. But Driehaus hopes to raise $850,000 by Election Day, campaign spokesman Alex Linser said. He expects Deters’ campaign will post more than $1 million. Driehaus had $250,000 on hand in April and Deters had $111,000 in July, finance reports show.
Driehaus has been fundraising for more than a year, mostly raking in small donations at house parties that supporters have hosted throughout Hamilton County.
It’s unlikely she’ll match Deters’ fundraising game, Linser admits, but he says she has enough in the bank to compete with him.
Next month, as early voting kicks off, she’ll start airing TV commercials on local stations and launch an aggressive mail campaign, Linser said.
“We always anticipated this would happen,” Linser said. “Not surprised that big brother is calling in his friends to help out his little brother.”
This turf war is particularly personal, Borges admits.
He has a history with the Deters family: Nearly two decades ago he was working for the state treasurer, who at the time was Deters’ brother Joe Deters. It was a job that nearly spoiled his career; Borges landed at the center of a pay-to-play scandal in Joe Deters’ office in 2004. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for improper use of public office, paid a $1,000 fine, and later had the charge expunged from his record.
And, Pepper – the Ohio Democratic Party’s chairman – hails from Cincinnati. He won a seat on the commission in 2006: the last time Democrats were in charge of the county.
Borges hopes to earn the bragging rights this time.
“I want to beat David Pepper in his own backyard,” Borges told WCPO.