Ron O'Brien is Not Ready to Dump Donald Trump

Dave Ghose

(Ron O'Brien, photo credit: Tim Johnson)

In early October, Zach Klein was one of the featured speakers at Hillary Clinton's massive rally at Ohio State University, offering a full-throated endorsement of the Democratic presidential nominee before more than 18,000 supporters, the biggest campaign crowd for Clinton to date. The event was a sweet gig for Klein, providing a large, enthusiastic stage in his quest to knock off Ron O'Brien as Franklin County prosecutor.

It contrasted sharply with O'Brien's more complicated relationship with his party's presidential nominee. While reporting in July for a September Columbus Monthly feature about the high-stakes battle for the Franklin County prosecutor's office-one of the most anticipated political races in Ohio this year-I asked O'Brien about his position on Trump, who's expected to lose badly to Clinton in increasingly Democratic Franklin County. "I will vote for him, certainly," O'Brien told me at the time. "But I'm running my campaign, and he's running his campaign. I have had no contact with him, and I don't expect him to have any contact with me. I'm focusing on my campaign. That's what I'm trying to do." He said the potential for appointing multiple Supreme Court justices during the coming presidential term was his primary motivation for supporting Trump (who, it's believed, would appoint more conservative judges than Clinton would).

That tepid support of Trump isn't uncommon among prominent Ohio Republicans. And after the video of Trump bragging about groping women emerged, plenty of O'Brien's fellow Republicans jumped ship, including U.S. Sen Rob Portman and Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, with Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges giving Ohio officeholders permission to dump Trump if they wished.

O'Brien would appear a likely candidate to disavow Trump. To defeat Klein, the president of Columbus City Council, O'Brien has acknowledged he needs to capture plenty of Democratic-leaning voters, something he's been successful at in the past. But when I contacted him to find out if he still planned to vote for Trump three months after our initial conversation, he declined to abandon the candidate just yet. "This is a campaign for county prosecutor," he said in an email. "The top of the ticket has not contacted me for an endorsement or support, nor have I consulted them about my race. I vote on election morning and as an experienced courtroom lawyer, I make decisions after all the facts are in. It is three weeks to the election with new information daily, and I plan to make a decision in each of the races on November 8th when I have gathered all of the information about the candidates running."

Klein blasted O'Brien for his response. "I want to be crystal clear: I completely reject Donald Trump and his racist, sexist and xenophobic views," he said in a statement to Columbus Monthly. "The evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump is an immediate threat to our future. The future of our country is at stake, and while Ron O'Brien may need more time to decide if Donald Trump is the right leader for our country, I do not."

Klein also said O'Brien's position "shows a complete lack of judgment and is out of line with the beliefs of the people of Franklin County."

(Donald Trump, photo credit: Eric Albrecht)