John McCain's insurgent presidential campaign has touched a nerve in many voters, including the thousands who turned out to see him in Cincinnati on Feb. 26. It's also given hope to several local candidates who'd like to replicate McCain's "outsider" attraction.
Both of the major parties in Hamilton County face challenges to hand-picked candidates in Tuesday's primary election. And despite not receiving their party's official endorsement and being seriously outspent, the "outsider" candidates refuse to go away.
Marilyn Hyland, running for the Democratic nomination to oppose Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus in November, has been a thorn in her party's side ever since commencing her campaign last fall. The party endorsed Cincinnati City Councilman Todd Portune on the day of the filing deadline in January, and Hyland was asked to step aside.
After considering several options, including running against Bedinghaus as an independent, Hyland has campaigned vigorously for the primary.
On the Republican side, the party-endorsed candidates for three open state representative seats are facing primary opposition from staunch conservatives — James Raussen vs. Tawana Keels Simon (endorsed) in District 32, Charles Tassell vs. Michelle Glass Schneider (endorsed) in District 36 and Tom Brinkman Jr. vs. Steve Adams (endorsed) in District 37. The flap over the party's endorsements, which drove the conservative candidates to run in the primary, contributed to party leader H.C. "Buck" Neihoff losing his position.
Ohio Treasurer Joseph Deters was installed as party chairman in December, in part to ensure that the party's endorsed candidates win Tuesday's primary and, in heavily Republican districts, move into the Statehouse in November.
When CityBeat ran a story on Hyland's candidacy on Dec. 16 ("Hyland Flings Herself Into the 2000 County Commission Race"), she was the only declared Democratic candidate for either commission seat up for grabs (held by incumbents Bedinghaus and John Dowlin). In the article, Hamilton County Democratic Party Co-Chairman Tim Burke said he'd asked Hyland to withdraw from the Bedinghaus race and suggested that a combination of Portune, County Auditor Dusty Rhodes and State Rep. Jerome Luebbers would oppose the incumbent Republicans.
A few days before the Jan. 7 filing deadline, Rhodes and Luebbers took themselves out of consideration. Hyland's campaign spokesman, Fred Anderson, said Burke told him on Jan. 4 that Hyland likely would receive the party's endorsement by the end of that week.
On the same night, the Democrats met in Evanston to discuss endorsements. Those present — ward chairmen, local officeholders and party leaders — decided to endorse both primary candidates for state representative in District 32, Wayne Coates and Jean Kumler. No action was taken on the county commission races, since the party hadn't settled on who would oppose Dowlin.
At the meeting, however, a Portune aide circulated petitions for Portune to seek three offices — Bedinghaus' seat, Dowlin's seat and Steve Chabot's 1st Congressional District seat.
By Jan. 7, the Democrats had settled on their slate: Portune vs. Bedinghaus, Joe Wolterman vs. Dowlin and John Cranley vs. Chabot. Hyland told Burke she would bow out of the commissioner's race if the party endorsed her to run against Chabot, but she was pushed instead to run for county treasurer or state representative in her heavily Republican home district.
So Hyland decided to stick with her original plans and opposes Portune in the primary for Bedinghaus' seat. She's picked up the backing of several community groups — Reading Democratic Club, Lincoln Heights Democratic Club, Silverton Democratic Club, Sharonville Democratic Club, Ward 7 Democratic Club and Concerned Citizens of Western Hamilton County.
But, she said, the local party machine treats her as "the enemy."
Hyland co-hosted a Susan B. Anthony birthday party fund-raiser on Feb. 15 with several other local women Democratic candidates —Kumler, Jean Siebenaler (state representative, District 34), Jeanette Harrison (state representative, District 35) and Rep. Catherine Barrett (District 31). Party leaders later criticized them, Hyland said, for associating with her.
Over in Republican country, the pressure also is on for party faithful to hold the line for endorsed candidates. Brinkman, the best-known of the three "outsider" state representative candidates and the unofficial ringleader, is running against someone who works for Deters in Columbus — which puts the race in an even brighter spotlight.
"It's been fun and intense," Brinkman said. "Sometimes I've felt like I was walking in a minefield and a hammer was going to fall on me."
Brinkman estimated he would spend around $80,000 on his campaign and figured that Adams would spend more than $200,000 — combining for what Brinkman calls "the most expensive primary election in Ohio history."
Brinkman said he and his rebellious cohorts decided to run in the primary to promote an anti-tax, pro-life, conservative agenda they feel the local Republican leadership has abandoned. The decision to oppose the endorsed candidates was difficult, he said, but necessary.
"I have to look at myself in the mirror every day," Brinkman said. "I always preach that people should get involved in politics, so I had to do it myself."
Both Hyland and Brinkman joined the crowds at McCain's Feb. 26 events, hoping to find like-minded "outsiders."
"Half the people at the rally were independents and Democrats who aren't happy with their party's leadership," Hyland said in a news release issued the next day.
Like McCain, Brinkman said that many of his financial supporters were people who'd never donated to a campaign before. ©