The leadership of the Democratic Party, both here in Ohio and in Washington, really doesn’t know what to make of Cincinnati council member P.G. Sittenfeld.
Is this guy just dense?, they must be thinking. Doesn’t he get the picture?
Despite having the Ohio Democratic Party, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) in Washington, Ohio’s senior senator, Sherrod Brown, former President Bill Clinton and a slew of elected officials around the state lined up against him, Sittenfeld will not go away.
He insists he won’t step aside and give former Ohio governor Ted Strickland a clear path to the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in next March’s primary.
What public polling there is does not paint a pretty picture for the 30-year-old Cincinnati Democrat.
Early in April, the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute released a poll that gave Strickland a nine percentage point lead over the incumbent Republican, Cincinnati’s Rob Portman; and had Sittenfeld trailing Portman by 23 percentage points.
Worse yet, the Quinnipiac Poll said that 89 percent of the voters polled – nearly nine of 10 – said they don’t know enough about Sittenfeld to form an opinion of him, good or bad.
We can safely say that it is very hard – darned near impossible – to run a statewide campaign when nine out of 10 voters have no clue who you are.
Which explains why, Thursday morning, Sittenfeld was standing in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, delivering a lengthy speech, full of soaring rhetoric, which was titled “The Future I See.”
And, with a good-sized turnout of media from around the state, he laid out what he believes and what issues are important to him.
Some, like campaign finance reform, are issues that Strickland has yet to address in his campaign.
“I am fed up with Supreme Court justices who equate money with speech – and Supreme Court rulings that allow millionaires and billionaires to hijack our democracy by buying candidates and elections,’’ he said.
In the Senate, he said, he would “fight for a constitutional amendment that finally and forever stops the corrosive impact of big money on our system of government.”
He talked about climate change, about women’s right to make their own health care decisions, about a future where “the freedom to marry the person you love is open to all.”
And he called for an increase in Social Security benefits, to be paid for, he said, by removing the income cap “that allows millionaires and billionaires to avoid their fair share of taxes.”
In short, he painted himself as the progressive Democrat in the race.
The Strickland campaign, through a spokeswoman, would have nothing to say about Sittenfeld’s candidacy or his Thursday speech. They are focusing, spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue said, on Portman.
There was one message that shone through in Sittenfeld’s speech more than any other – the generational factor.
It basically boils down to this: Ted Strickland is old. I am young. Ted Strickland represents the past. I represent the future.
And he did it without speaking the name of the 73-year-old former congressman and governor.
Instead, he said this:
It is, Sittenfeld said, “long past time to have a Senate that looks more like America. The Senate needs more women, minorities, and, yes, young people.”
“Though the millennial generation of which I am a member is the largest and most technologically savvy in history, not a single one of us serves in the U.S. Senate,’’ Sittenfeld said.
It’s worth noting here that, while Sittenfeld didn’t mention it, he would be 32 years old by the time he is sworn in as a U.S. Senator, if he were to win the race. The minimum age for a U.S. Senator is 30. Currently, the youngest member of the Senate is Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who is 38.
Also unspoken by Sittenfeld is the fact that Strickland, if elected to the Senate next year, will be 75 when he takes office.
Mack Mariani, associate professor of political science at Xavier University, said the generational factor is one Sittenfeld can play to his advantage, if he works it right.
“It is somewhat unusual to see an Ivy League-educated white guy running as the diversity candidate in a U.S. Senate race,’ Mariani said.
But, Mariani said, he can make the case that the millennial generation needs representation in the Senate, especially on issues such as student loan debt.
“Sittenfeld has the potential to expand the electorate in a way no candidate has done since Obama in 2008,’’ Mariani said.
There are about 700,000 college students in the state of Ohio, Mariani said.
“I expect that, come the fall, he will spend a lot of time and resources on college campuses beating the drum on issues important to young people like student loan debt and the minimum wage,’’ Mariani said.
“Make no mistake about it,” Mariani said. “Strickland is the heavy favorite in this race. But P.G. Sittenfeld is a skilled politician; and, if I were Strickland, I would not take this challenge lightly.”
But first, Sittenfeld has to get over that “nobody knows me” hump.
That is one reason the campaign decided that the Cincinnati councilman would deliver a speech Thursday on the front steps of the Statehouse, declaring that he is, indeed, a candidate, and one with specific ideas and a fresh perspective.
“Obviously, people in Cincinnati know who P.G. is,’’ said Dale Butland, spokesman for the Sittenfeld campaign. “But people in Toledo or Cleveland or other parts of the state don’t know him yet. And that is why he wanted to get his message out, through the media, to Ohio voters.”
And, yes, Butland said, particularly to those voters who also make the campaign contributions that enable a campaign to keep going and be competitive.
“Yes, we want the message to get out and we hope the money will follow,’’ Butland said.
Mariani said that is exactly what Sittenfeld needs to do – raise the profile of his campaign and be competitive with Strickland in raising money.
“I think a lot of people will see this as a David and Goliath situation in that Strickland has all the advantages in terms of money, endorsements and name recognition,’’ Mariani said.
“But David won and Goliath lost – so Sittenfeld is hoping that what he brings to the table – youth, energy, new ideas, and a considerable degree of political courage – will be attractive to Democratic voters,’’ Mariani said.
Maybe so. We shall see. It’s a big giant to knock over. It will take more than a slingshot and a rock.