When Cincinnati City Councilman Pat DeWine defeated Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin in a nasty Republican primary battle in March, it looked as if DeWine had already crossed the biggest bump in his road to the county commission.
But Eve Bolton sees things differently.
After running as the sole Democratic contender for Hamilton County Recorder in the March primary, Bolton decided in June to switch races and take a shot at a seat on the county commission.
Bolton replaced Erich Streckfuss, a University of Cincinnati student nominated by the Democrats as a placeholder until a stronger candidate could be found (see "Erich Who?," issue of March 10-16).
"In late May or early June I told the party I would be interested in the commission race," she says. "When they couldn't get some of the bigger names to do it, they were happy to have me do it."
Her late entrance in the race and corresponding lack of publicity during the primary puts Bolton at a disadvantage in many ways, especially with DeWine's strong name recognition and political connections, in part because his father is Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).
'Laugh him out'
But Bolton has experience in pulling off upsets at the county level.
She beat longtime Republican politician Robert Wood for the county recorder position in 1992. She served as county recorder for four years before losing to current County Recorder Rebecca Prem Groppe.
Bolton's primary goal is similar to that of DeWine — to stop the population flight Hamilton County has endured for the past several years. Her methods also sound similar to DeWine's.
"The biggest issue is stemming the loss of population and businesses from the county," DeWine says. "We have to make our tax burden more competitive, which means doing a better job of spending money."
"I think the overarching issue is population decline," Bolton says. "I think the way to approach that is cut the cost of county government through reform and cooperation, reduce the tax burden, invest in established communities and preserve the natural beauty."
DeWine's chief campaign weapons have traditionally included attacks on his opponent's record regarding taxes and spending. He accused Dowlin of avoiding the issue throughout the primary race. But Bolton says such tactics won't work against her.
"If Pat comes at me saying I'm a big spender, that I'm a big taxer, people will have to laugh him out of the room," she says. "I've been a budget hawk in the school district, in Mount Healthy, as county recorder and as president of the College Hill Development Corporation."
Another concern for both candidates is the history of inside dealing that seems to be longstanding practice in Hamilton County government. DeWine points to the Bengals stadium lease and the initial severance package for County Administrator David Krings, which DeWine calls a "golden parachute."
Bolton points to patronage in the county court system and the more than $4 million spent last year on private attorneys for public defender work.
DeWine, one of only two Republicans on city council, promises reform and points to his council record as evidence that he's willing to take on the establishment.
"I'm certainly in the minority over there at times," he says. "But I think there were important battles to be fought over there, and I'm glad I did that."
'A tremendous upset'
But Bolton, who will retire this year after 32 years teaching history and government at Wyoming High School, paints herself as an outsider who is in a better position to clean up county government.
"He wants to pit himself as a reformer because he took on an established Republican in the primary, but his designs for the future are not going to allow him to operate as an outsider," she says.
Bolton calls DeWine a "career politician following in his father's footsteps."
"I will be able to govern without worrying about my next political step," she says. "I can change county culture; he will not be able to. One of the planks in his own personal platform is inside deals and special interests. If the people believe that Pat DeWine is better able to deal with that than I am, then they should vote for him."
Bolton acknowledges she can't financially compete with DeWine. But she spins that fact into an advantage, rather than a handicap.
"You don't raise a quarter of a million dollars unless you're making promises and people expect something in return," she says.
Even if Bolton's lack of funds and name recognition do put her at a disadvantage, there are also certain benefits to being the lesser-known candidate. For one thing, it helps keep attacks from DeWine, who has a reputation as a tough campaigner, at bay.
"I have not seen her make a public appearance and I have not seen any literature or Web sites," DeWine says. "It's hard for me to know where she is on the issues."
As the season for debating and sound-bite swapping approaches, both candidates are gearing up for the fourth-quarter sprint to Nov. 2.
"We're going to run a tough campaign," DeWine says. "I'm not going to make any predictions."
Bolton is less reserved.
"I truly believe a tremendous upset is about to occur," she says. ©