Politics

Ohio Editorial Boards Rally Behind Ted Strickland’s Primary Challenger

P.G. Sittenfeld endorsed by two papers

Ted Strickland
Ted Strickland / AP

The editorial boards of two major papers in Ohio declined to endorse former Gov. Ted Strickland for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, instead backing his primary challenger, 31-year-old P.G. Sittenfeld.

The editorial boards of both the Akron Beacon Journal and the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that Sittenfeld is the best choice to represent Democrats in the Senate race despite having less political experience when compared to Strickland. Strickland, 74, is more than twice Sittenfeld’s age and represented Ohio in Congress in addition to serving as its governor between 2007 and 2011.

The endorsements come about two weeks before Democrats in Ohio will head to the polls to cast their votes in the primary. They follow a slew of endorsements for Sittenfeld, including those from former Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste and "Better Call Saul" actor Jonathan Banks.

The Beacon Journal editorial board cited Strickland’s refusal to engage in primary debates with Sittenfeld as one of the reasons they concluded that the young city councilman has been the "better candidate in this primary campaign."

"The former Ohio governor and U.S. House member doesn’t want to give his opponent … a vehicle for drawing attention. Strickland has taken that safe stand even though he is running far ahead in the polls and his troubled Ohio Democratic Party could use an elevated profile," the Beacon Journal editorial board wrote.

"Sittenfeld has proved the stronger candidate in this race, in the positions he has taken and the future he sees for the party in the state. "

The winner of the Democratic primary will face incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R.) in the general election this November. The Plain Dealer editorial board concluded that Sittenfeld would be Democrats’ best choice to give Portman a "real race."

The Plain Dealer specifically pointed to Strickland’s recent reversal on gun control—and past efforts to tout his A ratings from the National Rifle Association—as a reason for Democrats to vote for Sittenfeld over the former governor. Sittenfeld has repeatedly criticized Strickland for flip-flopping on guns, accusing his campaign of "peddling a false claim" about when Strickland began supporting some gun control measures.

While campaign aides had said that Strickland changed his mind on guns following the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, Sittenfeld’s campaign recently unearthed video of the former governor touting his pro-gun record during an interview last March.

The Plain Dealer met with Strickland, Sittenfeld, and Kelli Prather, the third Democratic Senate candidate, last week as part of its endorsement interview process. Strickland had a rocky interview with the editorial board, admitting that his position on guns had "changed over time" and that opponents could "absolutely" criticize him for it.

"My record is mixed and spotty and I could be criticized for that," Strickland said during the interview amid repeated attacks from Sittenfeld on his record.

"I haven’t been a ghost candidate. I haven’t been hiding from the people," Strickland said at the meeting, defending himself for refusing debates. "I just haven’t given my opponent, P.G. Sittenfeld, a platform that, quite frankly, I don’t think he’s earned through his own effort and work."

The pair of endorsements could give Sittenfeld’s campaign a boost ahead of the primary. The Cincinnati city councilman is largely unknown to voters, as 85 percent of likely Ohio primary voters say that they do not know enough about Sittenfeld to form an opinion, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week.

The survey also found that Strickland would do significantly better than Sittenfeld in a general election matchup with Portman. Still, nearly a third of Ohio voters view Strickland unfavorably, compared with 18 percent who have a negative opinion of Portman.