AFP Launches TV Ads Against Ted Strickland. Are They the Start of Another Big Campaign?

Two years ago, the conservative nonprofit knocked Senate Democrats on their heels with millions in TV ads. Now, Americans for Prosperity is back on the air in a big 2016 race.

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland speaks during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (National Journal)

So it begins: This week in Ohio, Americans for Prosperity will begin airing TV ads bashing Democratic Senate candidate Ted Strickland. The conservative nonprofit will put $1.4 million into this effort, but the big question is what will come next, two years after AFP spent tens of millions of dollars in an unprecedented early TV ad campaign targeting Democratic senators.

The Koch brothers-backed group started spending big for the 2014 elections in 2013, criticizing the launch of Obamacare and senators like North Carolina's Kay Hagan for supporting the law. AFP helped sink Hagan's public poll numbers along with other Democrats who went on to lose in November 2014, and it panicked Democratic campaigns and super PACs that ended up spending more money earlier than originally planned.

If AFP's Ohio ad is the start of another major multistate effort, the group would potentially set a grueling pace for Senate Democrats' raft of nonincumbent 2016 candidates, many of whom are just starting to raise money and introduce themselves to voters.

The new ad in Ohio, which will begin airing Thursday, criticizes likely Democratic Senate nominee Ted Strickland for jobs lost during Strickland's time as governor. The 30-second spot features a man who describes losing his job at DHL, a logistics company that shuttered its Wilmington, Ohio, hub in 2008, while Strickland was in office.

"In 2008, when we lost our jobs working for DHL, it was total devastation," says Bruce McKee, the man in the ad. "We had such devastation and job loss when Ted Strickland was governor. I've never seen him solve Ohio's problems."

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Public polling has shown that Strickland remains popular and even better known, so far, than incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Strickland also has a Democratic primary challenger, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

AFP has already been on TV this year in New Hampshire, where its ads have criticized Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, a potential challenger to Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Backed by more than $1 million, AFP joined other conservative outside groups in condemning Hassan for vetoing a proposed state budget.

Several other groups have also gotten involved in Ohio's Senate race early this year, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a new nonprofit — One Nation — connected to the super PAC American Crossroads. An analysis by the Ohio Democratic Party suggested that Republicans, including Portman's campaign, have already spent between $5 million and $8 million on advertising this year.

"Washington special interests are lining up to buy this race for Rob Portman so they can keep him in the Senate to do their bidding," Ohio Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue said in a statement.

In some major 2014 Senate races, AFP exceeded that spending mark itself in a matter of months, leaving Democrats scrambling to keep up. They will be watching closely to see if the group heads in that direction again.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the Ohio Democratic Party.