With more than a year and a half until Election Day 2016, things are already gearing up for high-profile political contests, and not just on the presidential level. In Ohio, the quintessential presidential battleground state, first-term Republican senator Rob Portman is one of the Democrats’ top targets. Cincinnati city council member P.G. Sittenfeld announced early this year he would be run for the Democratic nomination to challenge Portman. But at the end of February, the 30-year-old rising star was bigfooted by the entry of former governor Ted Strickland. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee quickly jumped in to back Strickland, noting his time as governor and his “long record of fighting for working folks.”
Strickland, 72, was ousted after one term as governor in 2010, the same year Portman was elected to the Senate. Elected by a big margin in 2006 after several terms in Congress, Strickland seemed poised for a bigger stage. There was even some talk early in the 2008 cycle of picking the Ohio governor for the vice presidential slot on the Democratic ticket. But by 2010, the political winds shifted in favor of the GOP, and he lost to Republican John Kasich by just two percentage points.
Strickland’s term in Columbus, which straddled a recession that hit Ohio particularly hard, was mostly a disappointment, according to one columnist at the Akron Beacon Journal. In a 2009 column, the writer described Strickland’s “Turnaround Ohio” campaign promise of 2006 “empty” and “unfulfilled.” He criticized the Democrat’s 2009 school funding proposal as “stealing from the poor and giving to the rich” and called Strickland a “bizarro-world Robin Hood.” The columnist wrote that “poor planning, communication and execution” and a “politically inept” administration had caused Strickland’s agenda to stall. “Need a working title for a book for Gov. Ted Strickland's first, perhaps only, term in office?” wrote the columnist in 2009. “Missed Opportunities would fit.”
What makes things awkward is that the columnist, Dennis Willard, is now working for the man he once said had “thin skin and paranoia.” Willard left the Beacon Journal in 2010 to start his own consulting firm, Precision Media, and to do communications work for the Ohio Democratic Party. Now he appears to be working for Strickland. In a recent story about Strickland's reversal on medical marijuana—he’s now for it after being publicly opposed in 2010—Willard is identified as a “Strickland spokesman.” Willard explains that new studies since 2010 have shown more benefits to using the drug for medical purposes, which accounts for Strickland’s change of mind.
And among Willard’s other clients? A pro-medical marijuana group, Responsible Ohio, which is advocating for a ballot referendum on pot.