Sights Set on Portman’s Senate Seat

Putting aside the presidential contest, it’s hard to imagine a bigger race in 2016 than the scramble for the Ohio Senate seat currently held by Republican Rob Portman.

click to enlarge Sen. Rob Portman
Sen. Rob Portman

Putting aside the presidential contest, it’s hard to imagine a bigger race in 2016 than the scramble for the Ohio Senate seat currently held by Republican Rob Portman.

With 24 of the 34 Senate seats up for grabs occupied by Republicans, and with Democrats hungry to take back a majority in the legislature’s more prestigious chamber, the battle in the nation’s favorite deep purple swing state will be epic.

Portman has the advantages of incumbency, plus a tidy $12 million his campaign has stacked for the battle. Plus, he’s running basically unopposed in the GOP primary, something that cannot be said for his potential Democratic rivals.

And yet one of his challengers, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, has fought him to a dead tie in the polls, with strong statewide name recognition and a couple million dollars of his own to throw around.

Strickland’s been effective in hitting Portman on his support for the GOP’s obstruction of a presidential Supreme Court justice nomination following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Oh, yeah, he also has the endorsements of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Arrayed against Strickland in the primary: Cincinnati resident Kelli Prather, who offers some intriguing points and anti-establishment appeal delivered in an unorthodox campaign that got off the ground late in the process and doesn’t seem to pose much of a threat to Strickland.

Then there’s 31-year-old Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who jumped in the race against Portman before Strickland did. But he’s a decided underdog, with $800,000 to campaign in a state that doesn’t yet know his name and just a week to reverse polls suggesting he hasn’t made much headway.

But that’s the glass-half-empty perspective. Despite trailing, Sittenfeld has raised an impressive amount of money for a very young, basically unknown politician running for one of the highest political offices in the country against a popular former governor. And he’s been surprisingly effective in hitting Strickland on issues like gun control and the elder Democrat’s refusal to debate. He doesn't have much experience, and has a tendency to stretch his short record, but his seemingly quixotic campaign has gone better than you'd expect.

Bigger upsets have happened, but with the primary closing in, it seems unlikely Sittenfeld will make up the lost ground in time, something Democrat officials certainly seem to recognize. Indeed, VP Biden is slated to appear at a Cincinnati fundraiser for Strickland on March 22 — a week after primary voting here. But take a longer look, and you see Sittenfeld’s campaign as the potential start of bigger things, even if he’s not still crisscrossing the state after March 15.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.