Local News
11:00 pm
Sat February 8, 2014

Winburn: The wild card in Ohio Senate race?

The 9th Ohio Senate District, which takes up most of the heavily Democratic city of Cincinnati, ought to be a slam dunk this fall for the candidate who emerges in the May 6 primary from a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

State Sen. Eric Kearney of North Avondale can’t run for re-election because of term limits. The 9th District – changed somewhat but not a lot in the last few re-drawings of district lines – was represented before Kearney by Mark Mallory, who left to become Cincinnati’s mayor; Janet C. Howard, and, for 25 years before that, the late William F. Bowen.

All were African-American Democrats, except Howard, who was an African-American Republican. And it is highly likely that an African-American candidate is going to win the May 6 primary.

Easy win in the fall, eh?

Well, maybe not.

The Republicans may have an ace up their sleeve.

Cincinnati council member Charlie Winburn, a prodigious fund-raiser and a proven vote-getter in the city, is mulling over getting in the race.

And, how might he do this, you may ask, since the filing deadline for candidates was Wednesday and Winburn filed no petitions?

Easy. The Republicans just do the old switcheroo.

There is such a thing in politics known as the “placeholder candidate;” and Jacqueline M. Mikita, a Republican party activist is one of those, according to Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Alex Triantafilou. Mikita did file petitions for the 9th District seat by Wednesday’s deadline.

If, after the primary, the Republican Party gets a commitment from Winburn (or some other well-known, well-funded Republican to run for the 9th District seat, Mikita would withdraw, according to Triantafilou; and the party would have until Aug. 11 under Ohio election to replace her on the November ballot.

The switcheroo has happened many times before. It could happen again.

Chances are, though, there will be a well-known Democrat facing Winburn or whoever on the November ballot.

Three of the five Democrats who filed petitions for the May 6 primary are proven vote-getters, veterans of many elections.

There is State Rep. Dale Mallory, who is term-limited out of his 32nd Ohio House District – essentially the same district his brother, Mark, and his father, the late William Mallory Sr, represented for decades.

And there is Cecil Thomas, who was elected to two four terms on Cincinnati City Council but left early last year and turned his seat over to his wife, Pamula, who lost in last fall’s council election.

Catherine Ingram, who served on the Cincinnati Board of Education from 1993 through 2013, tried to get the Democratic Party endorsement for Mallory’s House seat. But Northside lawyer Christie Bryant was endorsed instead and Ingram turned to the Senate race.

The other two Democratic candidates are less well known – Angela Beamon of Bond Hill, who ran as an independent candidate for Cincinnati council last year and finished 19th in a field of 21 candidates; and Paul Sohi, a Mount Auburn dentist making his first run for political office.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary, should he or she face Winburn in the fall election, could chide Winburn for running for another office, right on the heels of being elected last fall to a four-year term on city council.

Finish the job you have; then run for whatever you want, the Democratic message will go.

That council election, though, may be one of Winburn’s greatest strengths. He finished second in the 21-candidate field. He was about 10,000 votes behind the top vote-getter, Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, but it says that he must have drawn a considerable number of Democrat-leaning votes and at least half of the African-American vote in the city.

He has been putting these coalitions of Republican, Democratic conservatives and African-American voters for years in his many council campaigns.

If Winburn were to run and win, it would be a pick-up for Republicans in the Ohio Senate – not that they need it; they already have 23 of the 33 Ohio Senate seats. But GOP Senate leaders might like it because they would have their one and only African-American senator.

Winburn told the Enquirer this week that one of the deciding factors in whether he runs is that he wants to raise $1.2 million for the campaign. Why anyone would need $1.2 million in a state senate race we will leave for others to speculate.

“Charlie is one of the most prodigious fund-raisers we have in Hamilton County,’’ Triantafilou told WVXU. “He would raise whatever he thinks it will take to win that seat.”

Triantafilou also told WVXU that he would “put the odds at 50-50” that Winburn will decide to run.

Winburn has claimed interest in other races in the past; and, in the end, not made the commitment.

If the answer is “yes,’’ then move aside, Jacqueline M. Mikita. You will have done your party a service by keeping the seat warm.

And, if the answer is “yes,’’ count on this to be one of the more interesting Ohio Senate races you will ever see.