P.G. Sittenfeld had a promising career ahead of him in the Ohio Democratic Party. But Sittenfeld is running an inept and directionless campaign that is quickly racking up more problems at a faster rate than Ed FitzGerald did. If Sittenfeld wanted to raise his profile with this Senate primary bid, he’s clearly started to burn under the glare of the spotlight.
Sittenfeld’s week began with an admission that his much-touted hire of a campaign manager had already left the campaign weeks ago. The campaign tried to play it off as if the manager had never truly intended to stay on but only came for the short-term duration to get the campaign set up. However, that is not how Sittenfeld and the manager himself presented it at the time.
Also, the manager left even before the first campaign finance report had been filed and with many positions, the campaign admits, it’s still looking to fill. Further, there’s the issue that the campaign not only had no named replacement ready to name when Reid left on March 18th, but also there’s evidence the campaign only started to look for a replacement until after he left.
On Monday, the latest release by the Quinnipiac Poll showed former Governor Ted Strickland up nine points against freshman Republican Senator Rob Portman while Sittenfeld was 23 points down. Sittenfeld’s campaign not only didn’t dispute Quinnipiac’s findings (which also found that 88% of voters and even Democratic voters don’t know enough about him to form an opinion), they said it was not surprising.
In addition to losing his campaign manager, Sittenfeld’s campaign lost 270 Strategies (Obama campaign’s Jeremy Bird’s firm) when Strickland entered the race. Having lost key staff and consultants over a month after hiring them, doing poorly in the polls, under investigation for failing to disclose campaign donations on time, and revealed to have lied to party leaders about getting out if Strickland got in, Sittenfeld’s campaign is in free fall. So, it was no surprised that some members of the ODP’s Executive Committee wanted to have the state party join the President Bill Clinton, Senator Sherrod Brown, the DSCC, and virtually all of Ohio’s Democratic Congressional delegation in endorsing Ted Strickland.
At the Ohio Democratic Party’s Legacy Dinner last month, Sittenfeld mentioned how John Gilligan defeated an incumbent Democratic Senator in a primary and was positioned (after losing that general election) to run for Governor and win. Some have taken that as evidence of Sittenfeld’s actual thinking for staying in the race: raising his profile to run for Governor in ’18. But Gilligan was successful because he won the support of labor whom Frank Lausche lost over a long accrued and rather lengthy record of hostility to organized labor.
But Strickland has no such labor problems. Regardless, it begs the question that if Sittenfeld it trying to be the next Gilligan, why in the world would he send an email insulting labor members of ODP’s Executive Committee as “elitists” while asking them not to endorse in the race:
Sittenfeld said in the email, released by his campaign[:] “We reject the idea that elites know best.”
At the meeting, [Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees union Joe] Rugola denounced the notion that trade union members such as himself were “elitist.”
First of all, Sittenfeld is member of the party’s Executive Committee, but chose not to appear even though he had campaign events well before and after the meeting in the area. Governor Strickland personally appeared. Second, insulting members of the party’s Executive Committee is not exactly a smart thing to do if you plan on every running for statewide office again. P.G. Sittenfeld’s puzzling actions to stick to his “campaign to nowhere” is quickly pulling him into Bryan Flannery territory, and quickly tarnishing what appeared to be a bright future in Ohio Democratic politics:
“I think he risks becoming irrelevant …” former Secretary of State and ’10 Democratic Senate candidate Jennifer Brunner. [Source: Columbus Dispatch (4/12/15).]
Amazingly, it has been Sittenfeld’s campaign that tried to use Ed FitzGerald as an argument against ODP endorsing it (I already addressed this absurd argument in this post). Frankly, given the numerous problems this campaign is having lately, you’d think he’d actively avoid inviting people to make any analogy to FitzGerald in this race, because his name recognition and overall polling is worse than FitzGerald’s was. And, hey, FitzGerald was able to keep his campaign manager on board for more than two months.
Yes, with nearly twice the time as Strickland, Sittenfeld did manage to raise about $80,000 more than Strickland. But there are serious questions whether Sittenfeld’s fundraising has largely dried up already. Regardless, Sittenfeld needs money to 1) introduce himself to voters and build his own brand; 2) refute Republican attempts to define him; and 3) build the case against Portman. Strickland is so well known he pretty much doesn’t have to worry about the first objective. The Quinnipiac Poll shows Republican efforts so far has failed to redefine without little or no effort by Strickland to counteract it. So far, any money raised by Strickland only needs to address one of the three things Sittenfeld must use his money. While nobody expects Sittenfeld will outraise Strickland next quarter, Strickland needs only enough money to defeat Portman. Sittenfeld needs enough money to defeat both Strickland and Portman. That’s the political reality.
The Republicans thought they could play the same broken record on Strickland and get voters to turn on him. They went after hard from the moment he entered the race. But Strickland is such a well-established and known figure that the Republican rebranding effort failed. Like Ed FitzGerald, Sittenfeld is largely unknown and presently lacks the resources (financial and politically) to build his own brand. Over the past month, he’s appeared to have gone from lying to fellow Democrats about his political ambitions to flat out insulting them for daring to consider endorsing a former Governor sitting on a nine-point lead instead of a guy who is a completely untested, unknown candidate who is twenty-three points down (and, again, recently lied to them.) This is not exactly how you want to introduce yourself to your own party’s voters.
It may already be too late for Sittenfeld to undo the damage he’s done to his future prospects. But there is no mistaking that he has wilted in the spotlight he willingly thrusted himself into. His campaign is in disarray, national outlets are reporting his fundraising has essentially dried up (thought the campaign denies it… somewhat), and he’s done multiple things to anger fellow Democrats. These are all just self-inflicted, unforced errors on his and his campaign’s part. We’re just talking about process stories. Imagine what happens when the focus moves to his background and record?