Democratic Senate candidate Ted Strickland’s campaign was scrambling after top Senate Democrats scratched nearly $200,000 in TV commercials on his behalf while a conservative organization announced it will end its TV campaign in Ohio because of Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s strong lead.
The decisions Tuesday by a Democratic political action committee headed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Freedom Partners, an independent conservative organization formed by the Koch brothers, sends a powerful signal that there are growing doubts nationally that Strickland can defeat Portman in November.
Although top Democrats in Ohio insisted Strickland could prevail if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defeats Republican Donald Trump in the state, the Strickland campaign must overcome doubts about his inability to raise the money to effectively challenge Portman.
Portman, according to reports filed at the end of June with the Federal Elections Commission, has nearly $13.3 million in the bank while Strickland only has $3.8 million.
Reid’s Senate Majority PAC scrapped $191,000 in TV commercials Tuesday on behalf of Strickland to begin next Tuesday in Columbus and Dayton. Reid’s PAC has reserved $10 million in Ohio for TV commercials, but they can cancel them at any time.
“You can’t spin it: That’s not good news,” Jennifer Duffy, a Senate campaign analyst with the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington, said about the cancelled ad buy. “Now I want to see if and when they cancel the rest.”
David Bergstein, a Strickland spokesman, said the campaign is confident it will have to resources to challenge Portman.
Just hours after the Democrats cancelled the TV buy, Freedom Partners said it would end its TV campaign on Portman’s behalf by Sept. 14 because of Portman’s “strong position in the race.”
“Rob Portman has run one of the strongest campaigns of the cycle, he maintains a significant lead in virtually every poll, and the dynamics of the race have changed,” said James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners.
State Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus and a Strickland supporter, said Senate Democrats “are making a huge mistake, but the nice thing is there is plenty of time to rectify the mistakes because Ted Strickland is going to win this race.”
“I believe Hillary Clinton is going to carry Ohio and I don’t believe there is any way in the world that the people of Ohio are going to vote for Hillary Clinton and not vote for Ted Strickland,” said Leland, a former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
Jerry Austin, a Democratic consultant in Cleveland, said the Senate Democratic decision to cancel the advertisements is “rope-a-dope. Why waste these spots in the summer? Why not wait until October and hope Hillary has such a lead she can bring Strickland in?”
The commercials were cancelled one day after a separate Senate Democratic committee shifted $500,000 from its own TV buy in Ohio to help finance a Strickland TV commercial currently on the air.
Duffy said she “read a lot more into” what Reid’s committee did than the action by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, adding that the “DSCC didn’t pull the money, they moved it. They picked up some of the tab” for Strickland’s own commercial.
“He’s sort of has nobody to blame but himself,” Duffy said of Strickland’s inability to raise huge sums of campaign money. “For somebody who is a former governor and former member of Congress, he has not demonstrated the ability to meet a lot of fund-raising goals.”
Democrats targeted this race as one where they had potential to pick up a seat and considered Portman vulnerable, especially after he endorsed GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The race is believed to be the most expensive in the nation with $33 million from outside groups already spent on web, radio and TV ads.
Michelle Everhart of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.