An email invitation to a high-dollar fundraiser for Ohio Senate candidate Ted Strickland highlighted his liberal positions on guns and renewable energy, which have become a point of contention during his campaign.
The fundraiser was held in Washington, D.C., last November at the home of Arkadi Gerney, a senior fellow at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. Guests paid between $250 and $2,700 to attend, the Washington Free Beacon previously reported.
Hacked messages from the email account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and published by Wikileaks offer insight into how Gerney sold tickets to the cocktail party by highlighting Strickland’s past work for the think tank’s lobbying arm and his commitment to implementing gun-control legislation and President Obama’s aggressive clean energy agenda.
The U.S. intelligence community has accused the Russian government of hacking U.S. political institutions in order to influence the election.
Strickland, a Democrat who served as a congressman and one-time governor of Ohio before joining the Center for American Progress Action Fund, is lagging in the polls against incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
"Ted was the governor of Ohio from 2006 to 2010. And, more recently, he was the President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, where I had great pleasure of working with Ted on a daily basis," Gerney wrote to an unknown list of recipients that included John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, whose hacked communications have been published by WikiLeaks. "He’s a fantastic leader, a great boss, and simply an outstanding person."
Strickland has distanced himself from his work at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank throughout his campaign, instead highlighting his time as governor and his roots in coal-rich Appalachia. His campaign and other Democratic groups have simultaneously sought to demonize Portman as a "Washington insider" disconnected with voters in Ohio.
In the email invitation for the November 10 fundraiser, Gerney described Portman as "the guy who is very unpopular in his home state because, among other things, he: opposes increasing the federal minimum wage; opposes President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to address climate change; and voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill to expand gun background checks."
"Ted would go the other way on all these issues," Gerney continued. "As governor, Ted passed landmark state laws expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency in Ohio, capped tuition hikes at Ohio universities, and worked across the board to put in place policies to help Ohio’s working families."
Strickland’s positions on guns and energy have created problems for his campaign. P.G. Sittenfeld, a young Cincinnati city councilman who challenged Strickland in a bitter Democratic primary fight, accused him of misleading voters about when and why he changed his position on guns.
While Strickland’s campaign had said that he began supporting some gun-control measures such as expanded background checks following the 2012 mass shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, Sittenfeld’s campaign unearthed audio showing Strickland touting his pro-gun record and A+ rating from the National Rifle Association in March 2015, shortly before he launched his Senate bid.
Strickland’s work for the Center for American Progress, which advocates for renewable energy and a pivot away from coal, has also led some to question his commitment to Ohio’s coal-country voters. Strickland weathered criticism from his opponent’s campaign in March when he declined to denounce Hillary Clinton’s admission that her administration would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business," a statement that angered pro-coal groups.
A coal miners union broke with tradition in June by endorsing Portman over Strickland, despite a history of backing the former governor and other Democrats.
Strickland has received contributions and support from groups and individuals advocating for the president’s environmental policies. Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist and founder of NextGen Climate, donated the maximum $2,700 to Strickland’s campaign in June. One of Podesta’s hacked emails shows that the White House and Podesta may have coordinated a call between Strickland, Tom Steyer, and his brother Jim Steyer in January 2015, months before he decided to run for Senate.
While Ohio was once thought to be one of the most contested Senate races of the 2016 election cycle, Portman has pulled ahead of his Democratic competitor in recent months. Democratic groups have diverted money from the race as polls have shown the Republican incumbent building a double-digit lead over Strickland.
Portman currently leads Strickland by an average of 15.5 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics. The email invitation sent by Gerney last November highlighted Strickland’s strong stance in the polls.
"Ted is running against incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman—and recent polls show Ted is running even or slightly ahead of Senator Portman," he wrote. "A lot of folks say Senator Portman is a nice guy—and I’m sure he is. But, he’s also the guy who is very unpopular in his home state."
The Strickland campaign did not respond to a request for comment.