It's close, but for the first time in 36 years Hamilton County voters put a Democrat on the board of county commissioners. Moments after it becomes clear Cincinnati City Councilman Todd Portune has taken Republican Bob Bedinghaus' commission seat, supporters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel cheer louder than they have all night. Meanwhile, Bedinghaus spends the evening at the Western Hills Country Club, according to fellow Commissioner John Dowlin. Bedinghaus never makes it to the traditional candidate gathering at the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
Portune receives 47.7 percent of the vote, Bedinghaus 43 percent and Libertarian candidate Paul Naberhaus 9.25 percent. In the other, lower-profile commission race, Dowlin retains his seat with 56 percent of the vote. Democrat Joe Wolterman takes 44 percent.
What's the first task on Portune's agenda?
"The first thing I'm going to do is ask (Hamilton County Auditor) Dusty Rhodes in and begin auditing," Portune says.
Portune has said Rhodes should have been asked to do a complete analysis of expenses for the new Bengals and Reds stadiums.
But Bedinghaus has always resisted, saying that's the job of the Ohio state auditor.
A WCPO-TV poll had Portune ahead by 18 points about a month before the election. Then the Republican Party launched attack ads against the candidate they labeled "Liberal Portune" for his stances on gay rights, abortion and teen curfews. The ads seemed to have an effect: Portune's lead shrank to one point the Sunday before the election.
"I always knew it would be tight," Portune says. "I could feel the momentum shifting the other way the last few days."
Portune closed the race with radio and TV ads asking voters to ignore the Republican attacks.
Bedinghaus is a hard man to find on Election Night and apparently isn't taking defeat well. A few days ago a campaign staffer said Bedinghaus would visit the board of elections after an earlier private gathering. But he never makes it. He does, however, call to concede the race to Portune at about 11:30 p.m.
"He was crushed," Portune says.
Portune takes the podium amidst chants of "Who let the dogs out?"
"It has been 36 years since we had a party like this, and it's been too long," he says. "This is Hamilton County's win."
Portune's win is no landslide, but he says it rebukes Bedinghaus' statements that Portune was out of touch with the voters of Hamilton County.
"We have won because we are the faces and the values of Hamilton County," Portune says.
Then, during a second short speech, Portune calls for reconciliation after a divisive race and asks the crowd to keep Bedinghaus and his family in their prayers.
Meanwhile, Naberhaus spends the evening watching election returns at his Hyde Park home with other Libertarian candidates from Southwest Ohio. Naberhaus says he already achieved an important goal.
"I ran primarily to promote Libertarianism," he says.
Dowlin spends his early evening having dinner at Arnold's with his core supporters, whom he calls his "kitchen cabinet." Dowlin, 70, says his third full term as a commissioner will be his last.
Dowlin never had to respond to attack ads — or any TV ads — because Wolterman couldn't afford a television campaign. That left Dowlin to spend most of the last weekend resting with a comfortable lead. But he did visit 23 precincts on Election Day to thank voters.
Dowlin wonders aloud why Wolterman spent nearly $100,000 on a truck-mounted mobile video screen instead of more conventional advertising. Wolterman, who spent the last 49 hours of the campaign visiting all 49 political jurisdictions in the county, says he looked at the video screen as a moving billboard that enabled the campaign to be in two places at once.
Early in the evening, Wolterman seems to know he's a long shot. He says he'll be satisfied if Portune wins.
"And if we won two seats, it would be a miracle," he says.
Dowlin says Bedinghaus and Portune seemed to "talk past each other" in their campaigns, never really addressing each other's attacks. Portune's highest-profile TV ads featured a Bedinghaus action figure giving sweet deals to Bengals owner Mike Brown. Bedinghaus responded with ads telling Portune to grow up, take his toys and go back to city council.
Now that the votes are in, new questions arise. Did Naberhaus' support come at the expense of Bedinghaus? And who will get Portune's city council seat? Perhaps John Cranley, who put in a respectable showing against U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot? Or maybe Scott Seidewitz, who failed to grab a council seat last year but helped Portune with his campaign?
"I'm not getting in the middle of that one," Portune says. ©