CINCINNATI (AP) — Candidates hungry for votes in one pivotal Ohio county often spice up their quest with Cincinnati-style chili. If they’re in the northwest part of the state, hot dogs made famous on the TV show “M.A.S.H.” are on the menu. If in Cleveland, they’re likely to find themselves poring over the eclectic choices at the West Side Market.
Republican Donald Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, became the latest chili-partaking candidate last month with a platter heaped with spaghetti, chili and grated cheese at Price Hill Chili, on the Cincinnati west side in Hamilton County. Once reliably Republican, Hamilton has emerged as a swing county in a swing state after Democrat Barack Obama carried it twice, winning Ohio both times.
Obama, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are among the notable politicians who have checked out the local chili, developed nearly a century ago by Greek immigrants who used secret recipes, blending ingredients such as cinnamon and cumin for innovative flavors.
“We have our own thing in Cincinnati,” said Maria Papakirk of Camp Washington Chili, where her Greek immigrant father, Johnny Johnson, has been ladling out chili since 1951. “We are the chili capital of the world.”
A 2016 opponent of Trump in the GOP primaries, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, made a campaign commercial at Camp Washington Chili when running for governor, mingling with patrons.
Such appearances help demonstrate that candidates are at home among everyday people and can share their concerns as well as their favorite foods.
And besides the political benefits, they get a tasty break from the rubber chicken circuit.
Some other Ohio campaign favorites:
HOT DOG! IT’S TONY PACKO’S
Toledo native Jamie Farr helped bring the “Hungarian hot dog,” developed by Tony Packo, son of Hungarian immigrants in the Depression era, to national acclaim with his repeated longing references on the long-running TV series “M.A.S.H.,” set in the Korean War, in which Farr played the homesick Cpl. Maxwell Klinger.
The sausages covered in chili sauce were nestled in buns that spawned a long-running tradition of well-known visitors signing them. Jimmy Carter did so when campaigning for president in 1976, boldly adding “next president.” Actor Burt Reynolds started the tradition in 1972, signing a real bun. They’re now made of plastic.
The restaurant’s display includes bun signatures of four other presidents — Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — and almost certainly of the next president, since a “Hillary Rodham Clinton” bun has been displayed since she was first lady and one with Donald Trump’s signature went up after a campaign rally in July.
TASTE OF NEW YORK IN THE CAPITAL
Katzinger’s Deli in Columbus, a New York-style deli on the edge of German Village that serves up corned beef sandwiches, giant pickles and massive slices of cheesecake, drew President Bill Clinton in 1994. The visit became part of the menu — the No. 59, President Bill’s Day at the Deli, is a corned beef and Swiss with hot mustard on pumpernickel.
Presidential twins Barbara and Jenna Bush visited, as did Secretary of State John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential nominee in 2004.
MARKETING CLEVELAND VOTERS
Obama stopped at Cleveland’s West Side Market during his 2012 re-election campaign, topping the range of hundreds of politicians who have worked the diverse collection of vendors who sell everything from fresh seafood to strudel.
The president bought smokies, beef jerky and pastries at Michelle’s Bakery.
Hillary Clinton stopped by Frank’s Bratwurst Stand while campaigning for her husband in 1992.
ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM?
Some campaign sweet spots specialize in ice cream.
While stumping for his wife on Monday, former President Bill Clinton made a surprise stop at Graeter’s Ice Cream, a Cincinnati-based chain that has been in business for more than 145 years. He ordered a raspberry sorbet in a small cup.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney visited Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl in Zanesville, which opened in 1948 in the eastern Ohio city, in 2012. Owner Bill Sullivan got him to try the “White House,” vanilla ice cream with cherries.
Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, went in May to the home of Columbus’ popular artisan treat, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, to promote new federal overtime rules.
“My name is Joe Biden,” he proclaimed. “And I love ice cream.”