Former Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to announce this morning that he will challenge Republican Sen. Rob Portman next year, setting up what could be one of the nation’s top tier Senate races of 2016.
Dennis Willard, a spokesman for Strickland, said Strickland will make an announcement at 9 a.m. Willard did not say what the announcement will be, but those close to the one-term governor and former congressman say he is running.
Former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Leland, who is now a state representative from Columbus, said Strickland is “absolutely running. I just wrote him a check for $5,400, so he better be running.”
Strickland’s announcement comes a little over a week after he left his position leading the political arm of the progressive Center for America Progress in Washington, D.C.
He has spent the last few weeks contacting supporters and donors, and has assembled a team of key consultants, including Willard, Aaron Pickrell, who led both of Strickland’s campaigns for governor and who helped President Barack Obama win Ohio in 2008 and 2012; and John Haseley, who served as Strickland’s chief of staff when he was governor.
Strickland won the governor’s race in 2006 but lost re-election four years later to Republican Gov. John Kasich by 2 percentage points.
Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, a Democrat, announced his plans to run for Senate in January, and was in Washington earlier this month for a fundraiser featuring former White House spokesman Mike McCurry, former deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton and former Clinton White House speechwriter Laura Capps. Sittenfeld’s campaign has reportedly raised about $500,000 so far.
Asked to comment on Strickland’s impending announcement, a spokesman for Sittenfeld referred a reporter to a prior quote from Sittenfeld’s campaign manager, Ramsey Reid, saying the Sittenfeld “admires Ted Strickland but is focused on his own campaign.”
Portman launched his campaign by releasing a list of 500 elected Ohio GOP officeholders who had endorsed him. He later added 5,000 other endorsements from Republican grassroots across the state.
He has more than $5.8 million in the bank.
Curt Steiner, who managed Portman’s first House race in 1993 and has advised a wide variety of GOP candidates, said Portman has a strong network of financial donors in Ohio and across the country and predicted, “He will out-raise the Strickland campaign.”
Portman represented a southwest Ohio district in Congress for seven terms, and for most of that time Strickland represented a neighboring district in southeast Ohio. Portman also served as the U.S. Trade Ambassador and later Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the George W. Bush White House.
He was elected to the Senate in 2010 with 57 percent of the vote. He will be hard to beat, but Democrats hope to capitalize on a big voter turnout in a presidential election year and some vulnerabilities that showed up in a recent Quinnipiac Poll. Without pitting him against a prospective candidate, the poll found that Ohio voters were willing to give Portman a second term only by a 37-28 percent margin. The rest didn’t venture an opinion.
Republicans say they anticipated a Strickland run. “We have been eagerly awaiting Governor Strickland’s move back from Washington and his explanation for the 350,000 Ohio jobs that disappeared while he was governor,” said Portman’s campaign manager, Corry Bliss.
Jennifer Duffy, who monitors U.S. Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said that the race “could go either way.”
“I don’t think we know yet,” she said. “We do know that Portman’s going to run a great, strong campaign. What we don’t know is what the political environment is or who’s going to be at the top of the ticket in the presidential races.”