CINCINNATI (TDB) -- With his 2008 reelection bid still months away, Hamilton County's Republican Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann is suddenly and unexpectedly being dogged by rumors the Democrats are lining up a prominent political name to run against him. For two days this week, the courthouse was awash in speculation that former Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken would seek the job, which controls some 320-patronage positions and is a huge political plumb.
Luken is now serving as the chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission, a body that oversees the horseracing industry. He is a lawyer who served two stints as mayor and represented Ohio's 1st Congressional District, a job he quit to become a TV anchorman in Cincinnati.
Hartmann is a former executive director of the county GOP. He ran for Ohio Secretary of State last year and was soundly defeated by Jennifer Brunner. Some of the anti-Hartmann buzz downtown and in the courthouse was being fueled by staff shakeups and reassignments.
Other names mentioned as possible opponents were outgoing Cincinnati Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell, who launched an aborted bid for a Cincinnati school board seat last week. It folded when Tarbell failed to gather enough names on his nominating petitions. Tarbell would have party support if he took on Hartmann and his campaign would probably be better run. Another potential foe: Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes.
Some Democrats see Hartmann as vulnerable because he was returned to office in 2004 with 213,000 votes. That was fewer than the two county commissioners, and the treasurer -- who all faced opponents. While the Luken rumor probably is shaky at best, the fact that it flared to life and created such a buzz is a sign that Hartmann's job is being seen by some strategists as a prize within reach of the Democrats.