It hasn’t happened often since former Ohio governor Ted Strickland and Cincinnati council member P.G. Sittenfeld began running against each other for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination early this year.
Monday night, the two were in the same room at the same place at the same time – a Hamilton County Democratic Party fall fundraiser at Longworth Hall.
And they might as well have been 200 miles apart.
Sittenfeld, the 31-year-old underdog who has been running as a representative of a new generation of leadership, hammered away at his call for the 74-year-old former governor to meet him face-to-face in a series of debates around the state.
And Strickland, a one-term governor and former congressman who has been in politics since the 1970s, ignored Sittenfeld’s challenge and instead talked to the nearly 300 Democrats in the hall about his differences with the Republican incumbent, Rob Portman.
In fact, Strickland only mentioned Sittenfeld at the end of his speech.
“I have never said a negative word about my opponent,’’ Strickland said. “P.G. Sittenfeld is not my enemy. Rob Portman is my enemy.”
Sittenfeld addressed Strickland directly during his speech, telling him that if the Democratic presidential candidates can hold debates, Ohio Democrats deserve nothing less of their candidates for the U.S. Senate.
Talking to reporters before the speeches, Sittenfeld said he wanted to leave the crowd with three things.
“One is that there is such a hunger for new leaders and new voices and new perspectives,’’ Sittenfeld said. “And two, the Democratic Party should never be afraid of the Democratic process; we should embrace debates and should never fear a healthy, robust exchange of ideas.
“And three, when it comes to policy, Ted Strickland and I are not the same candidate and I’m proud to be the most progressive voice and the most progressive leader in this race,’’ Sittenfeld said.
Strickland told reporters before the event that it is not time to be talking about debates.
“It’s much, much too early, and, like I say, what I’m trying to do is tell the people of Ohio why Ted Strickland should replace Rob Portman as our United States Senator and that’s my major responsibility and that’s what I’ve been doing,’’ Strickland said.
The two Democrats will face off in the March 15 Ohio primary.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Strickland with a three percentage point lead over Portman – just outside the 2.9 percent margin of error. Portman led Sittenfeld by 22 percentage points.
At the end of September, Sittenfeld’s campaign had about $785,000 in the bank, compared to $1.5 million for Strickland. Both Democrats’ campaign funds, though, are dwarfed by the $11 million the Portman campaign has in the bank.