Saturday, October 21, 2000

County race: Battle of the ads

Bedinghaus, Portune prepare TV blitzes

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Get ready for a blitzkrieg of ads on television starting Monday from Bob Bedinghaus and Todd Portune, as their race for the Hamilton County commission heads to the wire.

        Between them, the candidates have booked more than $242,000 worth of 30-second commercials on the four network affiliates, all to air in these last two weeks before the election.

        And that figure doesn't include an additional $150,000 in commercials the Hamilton County Republican Party will run over the same period. Although the party's air time can be given to any local candidate, advertising managers at the four stations said they have been told most of it will be dedicated to Mr. Bedinghaus' ads.

        Democratic Cincinnati Councilman Portune is challenging Mr. Bedinghaus for his seat on the commission. It figures to be a tight race because of Mr. Portune's high name recognition and Mr. Bedinghaus' role in cost overruns at Paul Brown Stadium and his signing of a generous lease for team owner Mike Brown.

        The ads are a sales pitch from both candidates to suburban Republican and independent voters, who are likely to decide the election.

        Mr. Portune, a four-term councilman, could win every vote within city limits and still lose the election if he doesn't make headway in Republican strongholds. Republicans make up two-thirds of the voters in Hamilton County, and the vast majority are scattered about in the suburbs.

        “The overwhelming Republican support you find there is exactly what I'm counting on,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. “Even the strongest Republican campaigns fall short in the city.

        “So to some extent, you accept the fact that you're going to lose in the city and concentrate on those other areas.”

        That support helped Mr. Bedinghaus land 60 percent of the vote against Colerain Township Trustee Joe Wolterman in 1996, despite Mr. Wolterman getting a majority from city voters. Mr. Bedinghaus dominated the contest with more than 70 percent of the vote in Delhi, Green, Anderson and Sycamore townships.

        The same thing happened when Democrat Marilyn Hyland challenged Republican Tom Neyer for his commission seat in 1998. Ms. Hyland won the city, but Mr. Neyer secured 70 percent of the vote in those same areas.

        No Democrat has been elected to the county commission since Vincent Beckman was defeated in 1968. But this year that rock-solid support is in danger of crumbling for Mr. Bedinghaus.

        That's because of voters such as Ted Enzweiler, a 60-year-old Republican from Western Hills.

        When asked if he would vote for Mr. Bedinghaus, Mr. Enzweiler said: “Oh, no, he's out. I won't vote for him because I feel like I've been taken for a ride.”

        Joe Deters, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, thinks Mr. Bedinghaus still can win over voters such as Mr. Enzweiler.

        Mr. Deters said recent internal Republican polls have shown dissatisfaction with Mr. Bedinghaus, but little knowledge about challenger Mr. Portune.

        “Our polling shows this race is going to be very close, so we have to define for Republicans who Todd is,” Mr. Deters said. “If you don't distinguish yourself from your opponent, you're wasting money.

        “At the end of the day, I don't think the Republican base will abandon Bob. We've just got to deliver our message in an understandable and memorable way.”

        Ron Baker, 60, a Republican from Bridgetown, said he's going to abandon Mr. Bedinghaus. But Mr. Baker isn't sold on Mr. Portune, either.

        He'll either skip the race altogether or give his vote to the Democrat.

        “I won't vote for Bedinghaus at all,” Mr. Baker said. “But Portune hasn't said anything to win my vote. I'll have to think on it. But if the election were tomorrow, I'd just skip that race.”

        Mr. Portune said he's not surprised that a lot of people in the suburbs aren't familiar with him yet. The first of his television ads will begin airing Monday.

        In the ad, two children are playing with Portune and Bedinghaus action figures. The voice-over says: “You can help Todd stand up for taxpayers.”

        In one scene, the Bedinghaus action figure is giving a Mike Brown action figure a toy basketball court and Lego credenza. The Portune action figure breaks in and says: “No more giveaways, Bob. This is the taxpayer's money.”A voice says: “Todd Portune available at a polling booth near you. Bob Bedinghaus sold separately.”

        Mr. Portune said that while the spot is funny, the message is serious.“It does focus on the important issues in a way that people will remember.”

        Mr. Bedinghaus, meanwhile, has run two previous ads on television — in July and September.

        “There is so much anger with Bedinghaus right now that a lot of people aren't focusing on anything but that anger,” Mr. Portune said. “The Republicans are going to spend an awful lot of money in the last two weeks to try and buy this election.”

        And will Mr. Portune come up with the cash to pay for the $119,000 in ad time he's reserved?

        “We believe we'll be able to keep all of that time,” Mr. Portune said. “The first buy has been completely paid for, and the check for the second week isn't due yet. We've got money coming in every day.”

        Mr. Bedinghaus said his initial two television ads were effective. In the first he said “mistakes were made” during stadium construction but assured voters that the county's effort to rebuild the riverfront is on the right path. The second ad stressed the future vision of the riverfront.

        Mr. Bedinghaus said he will air at least two more commercials in the coming weeks.

        “I think the early ads allowed me to frame the (riverfront) issue on my own terms,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. “I think people are starting to understand how the riverfront is coming together.

        “I think it's very difficult for county Republicans to vote for any Democrat. And by the time Nov. 7 rolls around, they'll understand what Todd stands for.”

        Mr. Portune said his ads also will attempt to tell voters a thing or two about Mr. Bedinghaus.

        “It will draw clear distinctions between myself and my opponent,” Mr. Portune said. “We believe it will cut through and be noticed amidst the onslaught of ads that will happen these last couple of weeks.”


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