Democrats Express Doubt in Ted Strickland

The Washington Free Beacon | January 11, 2016

Former Ohio Democratic leaders are expressing doubt in Ted Strickland’s candidacy for U.S. Senate as the former governor continues to refuse calls to debate his primary opponent.

Tracy Maxwell Heard, former Democratic leader in the Ohio House of Representatives, told a local Ohio outlet Sunday that she would back Cincinnati city councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, Strickland’s challenger, for the party’s nomination. She cited Strickland’s aversion to primary debates as reason he might not be a “lock” for the nomination despite having more name recognition throughout the state.

“I’m not convinced that Ted Strickland will be the one who comes through the primary on the Democratic side,” Heard said during an appearance on WBNS-10TV. “He’s been a ghost, he hasn’t been speaking to any of the issues, he’s refusing to debate. Sittenfeld is just blazing through the state and creating a great groundswell of support.”

When asked whether she was endorsing Sittenfeld, Heard responded that she would put her “money” on the 31-year-old city councilman.

“I don’t think that [Strickland] is a lock because things are very volatile politically and within the Democratic Party as well. People are looking for leaders to emerge who are actually going to be aggressive and be fighters and go in as advocates for them. And that is how P.G. Sittenfeld is presenting himself. You have to be on the field to actually be in the fight and Ted has been invisible,” Heard explained.

Strickland has faced increasing pressure to debate from Sittenfeld’s campaign and local news outlets. The 74-year-old former governor and congressman has characterized the appeals as a distraction, rejecting a recent invitation from Ohio radio and television outlets to debate this month.

Last week, Dr. Bill Angel, former chair of the Allen County Democratic Party, criticized the state party for quickly “anointing” Strickland when it endorsed him less than two months after he announced his campaign last February. The Ohio Democrats have stood by Strickland through the debate drama despite the fact that the party’s current chairman criticized a candidate for refusing debates in 2014, the Free Beacon previously reported.

“What you have is a new generation that wants to come forward. [The state party is] saying, ‘No, no, you have to wait in line; you have to wait your turn.’ That’s become somewhat of an issue, and Strickland’s refusal to debate makes him look weak and not willing to talk about issues,” Angel, a professor at Ohio State University, said during a local television appearance.

Another Ohio Democrat, state Sen. Tom Sawyer, likewise said it was a mistake for the party to endorse Strickland during an interview early last month. Sawyer said then that he would not be endorsing a candidate in the primary race.

Prominent Ohio Democratic activists have also formed a Super PAC to support Sittenfeld’s candidacy, which raised over $730,000 in three months. The fundraisers, led by Cincinnati attorney Paul DeMarco, took issue with the way in which the state part hastily endorsed Strickland.

Sittenfeld has particularly called on Strickland to debate to address his recent reversal on gun policy. Despite past support from the National Rifle Association, Strickland’s campaign recently said he supports the expansion of background checks and a ban on firearm purchases for individuals on the terror watch list, providing little explanation for the policy change.

The winner of the primary will go on to face incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) in the general election.

Sittenfeld’s campaign cheered Heard’s endorsement as proof that Strickland’s campaign is faltering.

“We’re obviously delighted to be supported by someone of her stature and influence. Ted’s bunker campaign isn’t working–and more and more Democrats are coming to realize that the only way we’re going to beat Rob Portman and his $12 million in November is with new ideas and a truly progressive voice. P.G. has both–and Ted has neither,” Sittenfeld communications director Dale Butland said in a statement circulated to reporters Monday.

The Strickland campaign did not respond to a request for comment by press time.