P.G. Sittenfeld Keeps Pushing That Rubber Tree Plant

Oct 18, 2015

Sometimes, when we think about P.G. Sittenfeld and his long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator from Ohio, an old Frank Sinatra novelty song becomes our ear-worm of the day:

Just what makes that little old ant 

Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant

Anyone knows an ant can’t

Move a rubber tree plant

But’s he’s got high hopes; he’s got high hopes

He’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes!

Sittenfeld, the second-term Cincinnati council member who turned 31 on Oct. 1, seems to be in a hopeless situation, taking on a seemingly impossible task – defeating former Ohio governor Ted Strickland for the Democratic Senate nomination.

But he battles on; and there are a few faint signs of life in the Sittenfeld campaign – last week, he aired the first TV ads of the campaign on the CNN broadcast of the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate; and there is a pro-Sittenfeld super PAC out there that has raised $370,000 so far to promote his candidacy.

It’s not a lot, but at least it shows the underdog is starting to stick his foot in the door.

The poll numbers for Sittenfeld – the ones the public has seen - are downright appalling. Quinnipiac University released a poll of 1,180 voters that showed Strickland with a three percentage point lead over Portman – just barely outside the poll’s 2.9 percentage point margin of error.

The same poll had Portman trouncing Sittenfeld by 22 percentage points.

Unfortunately, Quinnipiac didn’t do a head-to-head match-up between Strickland and Portman.

If they had, we have a feeling it would not have been pretty for Sittenfeld. The Quinnipiac poll said that, even now, after campaigning hard throughout the state since very early this year, 86 percent of those polled said they don’t know enough about him to form an opinion, good or bad.

Running a statewide campaign when nearly nine of every 10 voters have no idea who you are is not a formula for success.

It would seem that nearly everything and everyone is lined up against him. The list of endorsements for Strickland is impressive, to say the least: the Ohio Democratic Party, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, former President Bill Clinton, the state’s ranking Democratic elected official, Sherrod Brown; and dozens upon dozens of local elected officials and county party leaders around the state.

It’s as if the whole solar system, from Mercury to Neptune, is lined up against Sittenfeld (although we understand the race is extremely hot on Mercury).

The money situation is not that great for Sittenfeld either. His campaign raised $757,044 between January and February, as his campaign was getting off the ground.

It slowed considerably in the second quarter of 2015 to about $272,000. And in the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, Sittenfeld’s campaign raised $229,000.

Given what he has spent so far, that left him with cash-on-hand of $784,000. That’s a little more than half of the $1.5 million in cash the Strickland campaign had on Sept. 30.

Both Democrats, though, look puny in comparison to Portman, who raised $2 million in the third quarter and whose campaign account has $11 million.

In September, Cincinnati lawyer Paul De Marco and other Sittenfeld supporters started a super PAC called “New Leadership for Ohio,” which, so far, has raised $370,000.

Under federal election law, the super PAC and the candidate’s campaign have to operate with a firewall between them, but De Marco said at the time New Leadership for Ohio was formed that it would raise “substantial funds” to help spread Sittenfeld’s message.

“P.G. Sittenfeld is a fresh, new leader who can held break the gridlock in Washington and solve the big problems facing Ohio,’’ De Marco said in a written statement when the super PAC was formed. “Our group believes it’s time to pass the torch to emerging leaders like P.G., instead of blocking them.”

It remains to be seen what New Leadership for Ohio will do with its money, but it is not likely to be spent attacking Strickland – that would just give the Republicans more ammunition – and will be spent instead on driving up Sittenfeld’s name ID and favorability rating among  Democratic primary voters.

Sittenfeld, in his public appearances, is careful not to attack Strickland personally, but does insist that there are real policy differences between them and that he wants a series of debates with Strickland.

Strickland, as front-runners are wont to do, has ignored the underdog’s call for debates. The Strickland campaign is highly unlikely to give an opponent who is a virtual unknown a free statewide stage.

“A debate is a tight rope act; you can easily fall on your face,’’ said Mack Mariani, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Xavier University. “There’s no way Ted Strickland is going to put himself in that position against a relatively unknown opponent.”

But Sittenfeld has gotten a few licks in.

The 30-second TV ads, which ran during CNN’s broadcast of the Democratic presidential candidate’s debate Tuesday night, in five strong Democratic media markets – Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown.

The Sittenfeld campaign is not saying how much it cost, but, whatever it cost, it was probably worth it.

“How many times do you have all the Democrats in the state, or most of them, watching one program on television at the same time?,” said Dale Butland, the veteran Ohio political operative who is spokesman for the Sittenfeld campaign. “It was a natural.”

It didn’t run in the Cincinnati media market, Butland said, “because Democrats already know P.G. there.”

One of the ads opened with images of three Democratic presidents - John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – participating in debates, with Sittenfeld saying that debates are a grand tradition in Democratic politics. He says he’s running to “reduce inequality, cut student loan debt, expand retirement security and protect our environment.”

In another of the ads – one that starts with images of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley - Sittenfeld makes his case for debates with Strickland.

“I’ve called on Ted Strickland to step up and join me in a series of debates,’’ Sittenfeld said. “Unfortunately, he’s refused.”

For many of the Democrats watching the debate Tuesday night, it was their first look at Sittenfeld.

And that, his underdog campaign believes, can help him build the name recognition that will help him (A) raise more money and (B) catch up with Strickland and make it a competitive race well ahead of the March 15 Ohio primary.

It’s a tall order. It could be a discouraging  one for most candidates in Sittenfeld’s position.

But, as our ear-worm song says….

So any time you’re gettin’ low

‘Stead of lettin’ go

Just remember that ant

Oops there goes another rubber tree plant!