Polar Vortex? Hey, there's a Senate race going on in Ohio!

Feb 22, 2015

It is not hard to understand why most folks in these parts might have been distracted this week from following the daily comings and goings of the nascent campaign for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat.

The election which, for the record, is still a little over 20 months away.

First there was the distraction of the record-breaking cold and its running mate, record-breaking snow.

And, for many of us, there was another distraction, one that warmed our hearts against the Polar Vortex – the fact that the Reds pitchers and catchers reported to spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz., on Wednesday, meaning that baseball is back, at long last.

But no amount of snow and wind can match the force of politicians on the move; and there has been plenty happening lately in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race.

At this point, there are three principal characters – the incumbent Republican senator, Rob Portman of Terrace Park, of course; Cincinnati council member P.G. Sittenfeld, who is the only announced Democratic candidate; and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat who is dropping big hints that he will enter the race but has yet to formally jump in.

Let’s deal with them one at a time:

Portman:  The first term senator is not hurting for campaign money; he already had $5.8 million in the bank by the end of 2014. And given that he has what has been called a “billion dollar Rolodex,” he can raise as much more as he needs.

The odds of any Democratic candidate out-spending Portman in 2016 are slim to none. And slim’s left town.

Nonetheless, he is getting some outside help.

A super PAC that is capable of raising unlimited amounts of money has been formed to boost Portman’s candidacy – and, most likely, spend a lot of money trying to tear down whomever his Democratic opponent turns out to be.

It’s called the Fighting for Ohio Fund; and all of its contributions and expenditures have to be reported to the Federal Elections Commission.

The Fighting for Ohio fund is headed by Barry Bennett, a Washington, D.C., political strategist whose roots are in Ohio.

Bennett has been a close adviser and friend to Portman since Portman first ran for the Second Congressional District seat in 1993. But, as Bennett pointed out, federal election law will allow no coordination between Fighting for Ohio and Portman’s re-election committee.

“I know Rob and I have a pretty good idea of what he is thinking,’’ Bennett told WVXU. “I’m not as smart as he is, but I know what he thinks.”

Bennett told WVXU  that if Strickland runs, Fighting for Ohio will spend a lot of money going after the former Democratic governor.

“Ted’s a very ripe target because of his record,’’ Bennett said.

Sittenfeld, who was first elected to council in 2011, hasn’t been around as long, so there is not as extensive a record for the opposition to research. But, rest assured, Bennett and his team at Fighting for Ohio are going over the life and times of P.G. Sittenfeld with a fine-tooth comb.

Strickland: There’s only one question worth asking the former governor right now – are you in or are you out?

Strickland’s not saying; all he has said publicly is that he will make a decision by the end of the month.

There are some clear signs that he is running.

Last week, he quit his job as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the political arm of a Washington, D.C. liberal think tank. That was a must. The Republican Party, both in Washington and Columbus, had been hammering Strickland for weeks, saying the Center is anti-coal and anti-gun rights; and that Strickland has betrayed the constituents of the congressional districts he used to represent, when he was a champion of the coal industry in southern and eastern Ohio and a strong Second Amendment supporter.

Then came the news on Tuesday that Strickland had begun raising money for a Senate campaign – although his spokesman, Dennis Willard, insisted that Strickland has yet to make a decision on the race.

Willard, a Democratic communications consultant, told WVXU that “a lot of folks (have) come to him and asked him to run; he’s talking to a lot of people around the state and, in the course of those conversations, he’s raised some money.”

Under federal election law, once Strickland has raised or spent $5,000, he would have 15 days to file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission setting up a campaign fundraising committee.

Sittenfeld: The 30-year-old council member has been raising money like a house afire for the past month; and has at least $500,000 in the bank. He’ll need a whole lot more, but he is also lining up former Obama and Clinton fundraisers to get behind his candidacy.

Wednesday, on Twitter (appropriate for Sittenfeld, who is a past master of the social media), he picked up support from an unexpected source – former Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory.

Mallory tweeted out the following: “We need to promote our talented leaders. @PGSittenfeld is a key leader for Ohio and will make a great U.S. Senator!”

Attached to the tweet was a photo of the two of them, with big smiles on their faces.

Mallory, while mayor, was one of the first elected officials around the state to come out for Strickland in the 2006 Democratic primary for governor; and campaigned side-by-side with him. He also cut a radio ad for Strickland that played on urban radio stations.

The Mallory tweet about Sittenfeld had to be something of an embarrassment for Strickland as he mulls over whether or not to jump in the race.

So there you have it – the current state of affairs in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race.

By the way, the Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day is 43 days away.

This election, on the other hand, is 624 days away.