COLUMBUS - It wasn't too long ago that Republicans counted on winning the mayoral race of the nation's 15th-largest city.
But 28 straight years of GOP control ended after Michael Coleman's election in 1999.
Now on Nov. 6 - for the first time since he took office - the Democrat faces a contested election from lawyer and Republican insider William Todd, who has tried to link Mr. Coleman to high crime rates and Columbus' struggling school district.
Mr. Todd and the GOP's five City Council candidates are all underdogs, with Mr. Todd facing the toughest race of all in a city that has trended more Democratic in recent years, Franklin County Republican Party Chairman Douglas Preisse said.
"The local Democratic party has gotten stronger," he said. "You have to give the devil his due."
Still, Mr. Todd has made Mr. Coleman respond on several issues during the campaign, Mr. Preisse said.
"They said we couldn't run a credible campaign against Michael Coleman, and we have," he said.
Mr. Todd has attacked Mr. Coleman, a native of Toledo, on the Columbus City Center, a largely vacant 18-year-old mall that once was a major destination for local shoppers. The owners last month agreed to turn control over to the city.
He's also criticized the mayor for not adding police officers fast enough, even though Columbus has annexed land and grown from 711,470 people to 730,657 people since the mayor took office in 2000. A campaign radio ad earlier this month used sound effects of gunshots and a woman screaming as a narrator cited rape and murder statistics.
An outraged Coleman campaign said the ad was too graphic. Mr. Coleman, 52, has said he's added police officers and protected public-safety funding during tough economic times for the city. Police department figures show that overall crime is down 15 percent since 1999, campaign spokesman Bryan Clark said.
On economics, Mr. Todd has said the city's job growth is inadequate and is tied to crime, education, and other quality-of-life issues. Columbus' job rate is rising faster than the rest of the state, the mayor has said.
Mr. Todd has worked on several conservative campaigns in recent years, including the unsuccessful effort in 2000 to unseat Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick.
He's also represented a political action committee that supports charter schools. Last month, he sued the state and the Columbus City Schools Board of Education on behalf of five taxpayers, saying public schools are spending more money on some students than others.
As a candidate, Mr. Todd has pushed the idea of folding Columbus' independent school board under City Hall, which he said would make school administration more efficient.
In their only debate on Oct. 3, Mr. Coleman said the city has instead acted as a partner with the board by developing mentoring and after-school programs and reducing truancy.