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