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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Strickland being pummeled by GOP - and he's not even a candidate yet

For someone who has not even announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Ohio’s former Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, has been under heavy verbal artillery fire from the Republican establishment.

The GOP – in particularly, the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC)  and the Ohio Republican Party (ORP) – has been regularly blasting Strickland in press releases for even considering running for the seat now held by Republican Rob Portman, even going so far as to use the words of a well-known Ohio Democratic political consultant to get under Strickland’s skin.

We know –have known for weeks now – that Cincinnati city council member P.G. Sittenfeld – is running for the Democratic nomination to take on Portman next year.

All we know about Strickland’s intentions are this:

  • That the Youngstown Vindicator, late last month, reported that two unnamed sources close to Strickland were saying the former governor would run.
  • And we know that Strickland, who left Ohio last year for Washington, D.C. to become president of the Center for American Progress (CAP) Action Fund, said in a (CAP) conference call with reporters last week that he hasn’t made up his mind and will make a decision by the end of February.

There’s nothing really rock solid to go on there. But the GOP has definitely launched a pre-emptive strike on the former governor, who lost his re-election bid to Republican John Kasich in a close election in 2010.
Portman, for his part, hasn’t had to say a word about either Strickland or Sittenfeld; and is just sitting silently on his $6 million campaign fund and going about his business as Ohio’s junior senator. He doesn’t need to say anything – he has the party machinery to do that.

And the party machinery has pretty much been leaving Sittenfeld alone recently, focusing their attacks on Strickland.

Meanwhile, the 30-year-old Sittenfeld has been quietly putting together a campaign organization and raising money at a rather rapid clip. Sources with knowledge of the campaign’s fundraising say he has raised $500,000 so far – not bad for a candidate who only started about three weeks ago.

Sittenfeld has held at least two fundraisers earlier this month in Washington, D.C. which drew some heavy hitters from the Clinton and Obama campaigns.

In the meantime, Strickland – the non-candidate candidate – has been taking the GOP body blows in silence.

The Ohio Republican Party put out a release saying that by going to work for a Washington, D.C. liberal think tank, Strickland has abandoned Ohio constituencies that supported him during the years he represented southern Ohio in the U.S. house – specifically Ohio’s coal industry and the people who depend on it to make a living and the gun rights advocates, of whom there are many in the congressional districts he represented.  

The ORP distributed a statement from the Ohio Coal Association telling its members that “moving from Ohio to Washington, D.C. has a tendency to change people. So it’s no surprise that for the past couple of years, (Strickland) has been advocating for the Obama administration's radical anti-coal policies” which it said could cost thousands of Ohioans their jobs.

Strickland, in his conference call last week, said he has always been a supporter of Ohio's coal communities and had asked the center to investigate the economic struggles those communities face long before there was any talk of him running for the Senate.

The NRSC made sure that the Ohio media knew about a column on the Buckeye Firearms Association website blasting Strickland for the fact that the Center for American Progress has lobbied for gun control laws.

“Everybody has a price and Ted Strickland sold out to the liberal Center for American Progress to run an operation that lobbied against our Second Amendment rights,’’ NRSC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in a news release.

This stuff is not likely to matter much in a Democratic U.S. Senate primary, if there is one. It might have an impact, though, if Strickland won that primary and faced Portman next fall.

This is the way campaigns work these days – the opposition starts attacking potential candidates, long before they have declared their candidacies. The Democrats at the national level are doing it too – putting out daily press releases slamming various potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates.

Strickland has brushed it off so far – after all, he is not a candidate. Answering such charges in detail can wait.

There was some speculation early on that Sittenfeld might get out of the race if the much better known and more experienced Strickland jumped in.

That’s clearly not going to happen. Sittenfeld is definitely all in.

Jerry Austin, a political consultant on Ohio and national campaigns for decades, says there is no reason for Sittenfeld to back off in favor of Strickland.

“The Democrats in Ohio don’t have a deep bench; and Sittenfeld is a young, attractive candidate,’’ Austin told WVXU. “Why wouldn’t they want somebody like him running?”

Strickland, Austin said, would be taking a big risk by running.

“He’d be 75 by the time he was elected; by the time this election comes around, he won’t have been on the ballot in six years, and he lost the last election he was in,’’ Austin said. “I just don’t know why he would do this and risk ending his career with a loss. And I can’t imagine that he thinks this kid would get out of the race.”

Mark Weaver, a longtime GOP political strategist in Ohio, said he doesn’t expect Strickland to run.

“He can read the tea leaves,’’ Weaver said. “The Democrats should just let Sittenfeld run; he’ll lose to Rob Portman; but he’ll be first in line on the Democratic bench for the next (statewide) election.”

Democrats, Weaver said, “have to know that Sittenfeld is the future. Strickland is the past.”

Now, we wait to see if Strickland himself decides that time has passed him by. He may decide he is not yet ready to be put to pasture. We’ll know soon.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.