Strickland Campaign Misled Voters on Gun Flip-Flop

Democratic challenger releases audio of Strickland touting A+ NRA rating last year

Ted Strickland / AP
January 14, 2016

Comments made last year by Ted Strickland, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio, refute his campaign’s assertions about his change of position on guns, according to Strickland’s competitor.

The campaign for P.G. Sittenfeld, a Cincinnati city councilman running against Strickland in the Democratic primary, released audio of a March 2015 interview during which Strickland, a former Ohio governor and congressman, touted his pro-gun record and A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. Representatives for Strickland’s campaign repeatedly said last December that he began supporting some gun-control measures after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

The Sandy Hook shooting took place more than two years before the interview released by the Sittenfeld campaign Wednesday.

"I have not lobbied for additional gun laws, and brother, let me put my record in front of you. As a congressman, I had an A and most of the time an A+ rating with the National Rifle Association. That has been my position and it is my position," Strickland said during the March 10, 2015, interview with local WOSU radio when asked by a listener about his support for President Obama, a strong proponent of gun control measures.

"I know I have some political enemies that would like to reinterpret my beliefs, but they don’t have a right to do that. I’m the only one who has a right to say what my position is and where I stand on these issues. You can look at my record back to the time when I first ran for Congress. During my years in Congress, I was the guy who voted against the assault weapons ban."

Months after the interview was recorded, Strickland campaign officials told The Plain Dealer that Strickland changed his mind on gun control after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting and began his support of the expansion of background checks and a ban on firearm purchases for individuals on the terror watch list. That timeline was repeated by David Bergstein, Strickland’s newly hired campaign spokesman, a few weeks later.

"Ted’s views about gun violence and gun safety have been deeply influenced as a result of the multiple horrific incidents of gun violence that our country has suffered, and particularly after the Sandy Hook tragedy," Bergstein told the Columbus Dispatch at the end of December.

Sittenfeld, the underdog for the nomination, has repeatedly demanded Strickland give voice to his position on guns, calling for debates ahead of the March primary. Strickland, who is endorsed by the Ohio Democratic Party, has refused, describing the appeals as a distraction from his likely general election contest against incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R.).

Announcing the release of the March interview, Sittenfeld said at a press conference Wednesday that Strickland’s campaign has been "peddling a false claim and a misleading fiction about when and why he supposedly changed his views on guns."

During the interview, Strickland also indicated that he would not alter his position on guns to please Democratic voters.

"I try to be who I am. I don’t try to tailor myself depending on the particular audience that I am addressing. People can take me as I am and reject me as I am, but they’re going to get me. They’re not going to get some poll-driven, position paper that doesn’t really reflect my record. I’ve got a record that I feel very comfortable in defending," Strickland said.

Less than a year later, Strickland couched his new position on "commonsense" gun control measures as "consistent with our Second Amendment rights" in a statement responding to President Obama’s new executive order on gun control announced last week.

The Strickland campaign and Ohio Democrats have portrayed Portman as a Washington, D.C., insider who engages in "double-speak" before Ohio voters.

"Portman’s D.C. double-speak is exactly what Ohioans hate about the politics of Washington. Even after he’s been called out in the press, Senator Portman continues saying one thing to Ohio after doing the opposite in Congress—which is exactly why hard-working Ohioans don’t trust Portman to look out for us," Kirstin Alvanitakis, the party’s communications director, said in a statement released last month.

The Strickland campaign did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment Thursday.