Plunderbund reported recently that Ohio junior U.S. Senator Rob Portman was among a list of GOP incumbents who are seen as beatable, especially in a presidential election year when voter turnout is way up compared to midterm election cycles when it historically drops off.
Some thought Portman, elected in the Tea Party uprising of 2010 and up for re-election in two years, would see a tested Democrat like former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland or Congressman Tim Ryan take him on, but the news Thursday is that P.G. Sittenfeld, Cincinnati City Councilman and Assistant Director of the Community Learning Center Institute, will compete for the honors for Democrats who hope to win Ohio again in the presidential race to come.
He hasn’t won the nomination yet, but he’s a fresh face Ohioans know little about if they’ve heard his name at all. Sittenfeld won his last election by the highest percentage and widest margin of victory in the city’s modern history. He’s been nationally recognized for his work to transform neighborhood schools into after-hours community centers.
“The Washington insiders have stacked the deck against working families – and they’re too disconnected from Ohio values, Ohio priorities, and Ohio ingenuity to solve the big problems facing the nation,” Sittenfeld said today in prepared remarks. “It’s time for a new generation of leaders to step forward for our country. As Ohio’s next Senator, I’ll work to strengthen the economy, stand up for the middle class, and create opportunity for everyone.”
Ohio Republicans were quick to skewer the focus of the announcement. Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf ladled on the cynicism. “Everyday Rob Portman wakes up and thinks about how he can help Ohio; PG thinks about how PG can advance his own career. PG is like the second coming of Ed FitzGerald, but with even less experience and more arrogance. After accomplishing nothing as a city councilman he was already plotting his run for Senate, at the same time that he was plotting his run for Governor, at the same time that he was plotting his Presidential run. In an Ohio political dictionary under hubris there would be a picture of FitzGerald followed by one of PG. It’s doubtful that PG has any plan besides being a rubber-stamp for the tax-raising, budget busting policies of his political hero Barack Obama, who just this week proposed $320 BILLION in new taxes on Americans.”
Ohio Democrats got crushed last November by Republicans, who won all statewide races and upped their margin in the Ohio House. Called a “rising star” by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, and NBC political analyst Chuck Todd, Sittenfeld has made a name for himself with his innovative ideas and cutting-edge programs have been lauded by numerous sources at the state and national levels. His work to reimagine and repurpose neighborhood schools as after-hours “Town-Square Schools” earned him the national “New Ideas Challenge” award in 2014 for “Making Government Work Better.”
Senator Portman, who represented Cincinnati as a congressman and who twice served former GOP President George W. Bush in two positions, was on Mitt Romney’s short list of possible Vice Presidential picks in 2012. Romney didn’t pick Portman then, but since then Sen. Portman’s name has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate himself even though Portman took himself out of the race. Now that Jeb Bush, younger brother of George W. and a former two-term governor of Florida, is in the race, some believe that a Bush-Portman ticket would make sense and maybe give Republicans a leg-up on winning one or both key presidential battle ground states. As the biggest battleground state among the dozen that winning candidates must win, Ohio offers 18 Electoral College votes while Florida offers even more at 29. To win, 270 Electoral College votes are needed. Ohio has gone with the winning candidate in all but two elections since 1900.
Sittenfeld, a graduate of Princeton University, was awarded a Marshall Scholarship to attend graduate school at Oxford University. Following his studies and after completing a fellowship at Google, he turned down an offer to continue working at the technology company to return to his hometown to serve as the Assistant Director of the Community Learning Center Institute, where he helped guide a $1 billion school facilities master plan. In this role, he helped transform the Cincinnati Public School District and neighborhoods across the city by taking underused schools and rebuilding them into hubs of opportunity for mentoring, learning, and healthcare accessible to the entire community. These efforts have led to improved academic outcomes in Cincinnati – and inspired similar programs across Ohio and in New York City.