After a bruising primary loss to Simpson in May, Cranley switched his campaign strategy and launched a massive ground game that reached more than 100,000 voter doorsteps in the span of six months.
“After the primary, I thought I was a goner,” Cranley admitted. “So I put on my walking shoes and starting walking the neighborhoods. I always felt we had made good progress as a city, I just needed to do a better job of talking and listening to folks.”
When Simpson entered the race in August 2016, she criticized Cranley for being difficult to work with and being too close to developers.
Yet Cranley insisted the city was headed in the right direction, and he touted a list of achievements, from bringing a new Kroger to Downtown, to fixing the pension crisis, to ending police and fire brownouts, to paving city roads.
And voters seemed to agree. Cranley had a wide lead at 8 p.m. when early votes were counted, and he never lost it.
Unofficial results show he won 54 percent of the vote to Simpson’s 46.
Just as his campaign staff predicted, Cranley over-performed with voters on the far East Side and West Side of town, while Simpson won the corridor in the middle, from Bond Hill to Avondale to Walnut Hills.
“We’ve got a winning city right now. We are moving in the right direction, so why would you change horses when you’re ahead in the race?” said Councilman Kevin Flynn, who attended Cranley’s party.
In the days before the election, Cranley promised that his campaign team would revisit the homes of 11,500 supporters to remind them to vote. Cranley’s campaign staffers credited that grassroots ground game with delivering him a second term.
During most weeks, Cranley had 10 to 15 paid campaign staffers walking at least five miles a day from Price Hill to Mt. Washington to meet voters.
“The campaign reinvented itself post primary, and we developed a grassroots strategy,” said Jared Kamrass, principal at Rivertown Strategies, who consulted for the campaign. “The message was very much focused on his track record.”
Kamrass helped Cranley raise a massive war chest: nearly $2.5 million, which is more than any other mayoral candidate in Cincinnati history.
Many of those fundraising dollars were spent on television ads criticizing Simpson’s proposal to force Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to spend another $14 million in Avondale in exchange for the zoning change that would allow it to expand. That Children’s issue dogged Simpson throughout the campaign.
Her “people powered” campaign relied on passionate volunteers, and her ability to connect with voters on their doorsteps. She also received powerful endorsements from former mayor Mark Mallory and civil rights leader Marian Spencer.
But Cranley had the support of union leaders, who he thanked repeatedly at his election party, and developers.
“We are going to continue to build the greatest comeback city in America,” Cranley said. “We are going to build a city that can reach for Amazon.”
Simpson conceded to Cranley at 10:40 p.m. She said she will finish out her council term, which ends Jan. 2.
Then she's effectively out of local politics for the time being. Because she ran for mayor, she couldn't run for a third term on Cincinnati City Council.
Meanwhile Cranley thanked Simpson for a “spirited campaign” and wished her the best.