GOP going after Strickland, leaving Sittenfeld out of the line of fire

Mar 8, 2015

The last time we checked, there were two Democratic candidates who have officially jumped into the 2016 U.S. Senate race – former Ohio governor Ted Strickland and Cincinnati council member P.G. Sittenfeld.

You wouldn’t know it by the way Republican Party leaders have been behaving lately.

So far, the vast majority of the verbal, virtual, and video bombs being lobbed by the GOP have been aimed squarely at Strickland – who, without doubt, enters the race as the best known of the two Democrats and the one with the longest record in public office.

They’ve come from the campaign committee of the Republican incumbent, Rob Portman; from the Ohio Republican Party, and from the National Republican Senate Committee.

They have come in the form of web sites created to paint Strickland – who lost his bid for re-election in 2010 to John Kasich by a scant two percentage points – as “Retread Ted.” They’ve come in the form of e-mails from the GOP dredging up quotes from Strickland after the 2010 election allegedly disparaging Cleveland, the state’s Democratic stronghold. They’ve come in the form of web videos produced by the Portman campaign that have been making the rounds in the social media.

It’s almost as if Sittenfeld doesn’t exist to the GOP.

Why is this happening?

Do they assume that Strickland, with his much higher name recognition, would knock off Sittenfeld in next March’s primary, and face Portman in the fall?

Or are they just trying to soften up the former governor for a primary battle with Sittenfeld?

“Here’s a theory on what they might be up to,’’ said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a weekly newsletter on politics put out by Larry Sabato, who heads the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “They might be trying to show how vulnerable Strickland is in order to keep Sittenfeld in the race.”

Tim Burke, the chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said he has every reason to believe that Sittenfeld will stay in the race and that there will be a primary a year from now.

And why not? The 30-year-old second-term council member has shown that he is good at raising money. He doesn’t have the name identification with Ohio Democratic voters that Strickland, a former congressman who has been on the political scene since the mid-1970s does, but money and the willingness to travel to every corner of the state can change that very quickly.

In the meantime, Sittenfeld is busy raising money and his campaign staff is issuing press releases, talking about things like how to make college more affordable for Ohio’s young people and their families, and taking a shot at “Rob Portman’s shallow legislative record.”

Sittenfeld sent WVXU a text message Friday saying he is “all in” the Senate race, and has no plans to step aside for Strickland.

He has said nothing yet about Strickland, although Kondik said that in a primary, the Cincinnati councilman could use some of the same material the GOP is using against Strickland now.

Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Alex Triantafilou said has “a real hard time seeing P.G. winning a Democratic primary against Strickland.”

Strickland, Triantafilou, said is an easier target for the GOP because “he has done more damage in his long career than P.G. Sittenfeld has done in his short career.”

Sittenfeld has only been in office since Dec. 2011; there is not as much of a record there for opposition researchers to pick over. But you can rest assured that they are picking over what record there is.

The “damage,” as Triantafilou called it, that the Portman campaign and the GOP are focusing on centers around the charge that Ohio lost 351,000 jobs during Strickland’s watch as governor.

“They are going to try to destroy Ted Strickland with this,’’ Burke said.

Friday, Matt Borges, the Ohio Republican Party chairman, was crowing over the newly released Ohio job numbers. In a press release, the GOP chairman said Ohio has created 352,000 private sector jobs since Kasich took office.

“Gov. Kasich and our Republican legislature have brought Ohio back from the financial and economic ruin left by Ted Strickland,’’ Borges said.

Burke said the GOP argument is ridiculous.

“They are trying to convince people that Ted Strickland caused the worldwide recession all by himself,’’ Burke said.

Earlier in the week, the Portman for Senate campaign unveiled a web video called “Newspapers,” which pulled quotes past and present from Ohio newspapers criticizing Strickland’s record as governor and his decision to run for the Senate.

“This is more hogwash from a millionaire working for billionaires,’’ said Dennis Willard, a spokesman for Strickland’s campaign. “Ted Strickland had to clean up Rob Portman’s mess because Portman is a do-nothing Washington insider running from his own shadow and record of killing jobs and destroying the American dream for thousands of hard-working people.”

So the GOP assault on Strickland goes on. We’ll see eventually if they picked the right target.