Sittenfeld’s presence, kept alive by the super PAC despite dried-up personal campaign fundraising, has not only choked off some of Strickland’s fundraising in Cincinnati—one of the state’s biggest Democratic strongholds—but also incited some cringe-worthy moments on the trail.
Asked last week in a radio interview with WXVU whether he‘d participate in a Democratic debate, Strickland said the primary would “be over in a relatively short period of time'' and he wouldn’t allow himself “to be distracted by anything like that.''
That caused some exasperation within Ohio Democratic circles. While it’s not uncommon for a front-runner to avoid debating a little-known opponent, Strickland’s dismissive attitude struck the wrong chord with some would-be allies.
In a local TV appearance, former state House Majority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard referred to Strickland as a “ghost” on the trail and offered an unsolicited endorsement for Sittenfeld. Former Allen County Democratic Party Chairman Bill Angel said the refusal made the candidate “look weak.”
Still, the Strickland campaign remains confident about its strategy.
"The important thing to keep in mind is both the amount of money a candidate has, and what they have to do with their money,” Strickland spokesman David Bergstein said. “What Strickland has to do with his money is very different than what any other candidate in this race has to do with their money. Strickland has nearly universal name ID in Ohio, he’s well-liked, and after weathering up to $11 million in attacks he’s still winning the race.”
Strickland’s allies insist that however bad things may look, he’s led every Quinnipiac poll against Portman since joining the race, while Sittenfeld has trailed by double digits.
“I’ve always said this primary was an unnecessary distraction, and it continues to be one, because their main focus should be on defeating Rob Portman,” said former Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Leland, who supports Strickland. “You have a guy like Ted Strickland who has 97-98 percent name recognition, and that’s worth millions and millions of dollars.”
Indeed, a year into the race, many of the upsides to Strickland’s candidacy have come to play out. That includes his popularity in his former congressional district in Southeast Ohio, an area that’s become increasingly tougher territory for Democrats since he won 17 counties there in his unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial reelection.
Strickland’s critics argue that in a presidential year, when Ohio’s Democratic turnout in urban areas is much higher than in off years, the party doesn’t need to cater to the reddest part of the state.
Despite securing the immediate support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the entire Ohio Democratic congressional delegation, and the state party, a handful of wealthy donors from the Cincinnati area haven’t given up on the idea of promoting Sittenfeld, who they say has made more of an effort on the campaign trail and is a better match for the state’s urban Democratic electorate on guns and the environment.