Ted Strickland's Ohio Woes

National Journal | January 13, 2016

As he ap­proaches nearly a full year of cam­paign­ing for Sen­ate in Ohio, Ted Strick­land’s polit­ic­al comeback bid isn’t the jug­ger­naut party lead­ers once hoped.

Des­pite a dec­ades-long ca­reer of win­ning tough races, the former gov­ernor and con­gress­man has fallen short of fun­drais­ing goals, drawn cri­ti­cism for a lack of vis­ib­il­ity, and failed to shut down a little-known primary op­pon­ent.

While Strick­land, who has the back­ing of nearly every Demo­crat­ic power source in the state, re­mains heav­ily favored to win the nom­in­a­tion in two months, it’s far from the smooth op­er­a­tion party lead­ers fore­cas­ted when they draf­ted the 74-year-old polit­ic­al vet­er­an for this mar­quee race.

Cri­ti­cism from Strick­land’s Demo­crat­ic rivals—who will soon launch TV ads—is threat­en­ing to pull his fo­cus from the gen­er­al in a race that could prove cru­cial to the party’s hopes of win­ning the ma­jor­ity. His fun­drais­ing has already fallen well be­low the early goals set for his cam­paign and is less than half the nearly $10 mil­lion Port­man raised in the past year.

Sit­ten­feld’s pres­ence, kept alive by the su­per PAC des­pite dried-up per­son­al cam­paign fun­drais­ing, has not only choked off some of Strick­land’s fun­drais­ing in Cin­cin­nati—one of the state’s biggest Demo­crat­ic strong­holds—but also in­cited some cringe-worthy mo­ments on the trail.

Asked last week in a ra­dio in­ter­view with WXVU wheth­er he‘d par­ti­cip­ate in a Demo­crat­ic de­bate, Strick­land said the primary would “be over in a re­l­at­ively short peri­od of time” and he wouldn’t al­low him­self “to be dis­trac­ted by any­thing like that.”

That caused some ex­as­per­a­tion with­in Ohio Demo­crat­ic circles. While it’s not un­com­mon for a front-run­ner to avoid de­bat­ing a little-known op­pon­ent, Strick­land’s dis­missive at­ti­tude struck the wrong chord with some would-be al­lies.

In a loc­al TV ap­pear­ance, former state House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Tracy Max­well Heard re­ferred to Strick­land as a “ghost” on the trail and offered an un­so­li­cited en­dorse­ment for Sit­ten­feld. Former Al­len County Demo­crat­ic Party Chair­man Bill An­gel said the re­fus­al made the can­did­ate “look weak.”

“The biggest is­sue for Ted is, does he feel like he has to spend money against P.G.?” said one Strick­land ally, who re­ques­ted an­onym­ity to speak can­didly. “That is when it goes from be­ing what I’m sure Ted is think­ing of as a small nuis­ance to something that’s dam­aging. … Be­cause that’s money you can’t spend against Port­man