By Jack Torry and Jessica Wehrman
Former Gov. Ted Strickland easily turned back a primary challenge from Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld Tuesday but enters the general election against Republican Sen. Rob Portman without much campaign money.
With 85 percent of the precincts reporting, Strickland had won 65.6 percent of the vote against 22 percent for Sittenfeld and 12 percent for Kelli Prather, an occupational therapist from Cincinnati.
Voters in Ohio will choose in the fall between two of the state’s better known state politicians: Portman, a first-term senator who served 12 years in the U.S. House, and Strickland, a one-term governor who served 12 years in the House.
While Portman has an overwhelming financial advantage, Democrats are hopeful Strickland can capitalize on the likely possibility that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential nominee against New York billionaire Donald Trump, who many believe will divide the party.
The Strickland camp already has been blasting Portman for saying he would support the Republican presidential nominee no matter who is selected.
The 74-year-old Strickland reported having just $2.2 million in campaign money compared to $12.7 million for Portman. The Cincinnati Republican easily defeated Galloway retiree Don Elijah Eckhart Tuesday in the GOP primary.
Sittenfeld ran to the left of Strickland, criticizing the former governor for his high ratings in the past from the National Rifle Association and then for abruptly announcing he would support gun restrictions in the aftermath of a number of high-profile mass shootings in the United States. He also chided him for not agreeing to debate.
But Sittenfeld said he called Strickland to congratulate him Tuesday night and told him he would “do everything I can to help him beat Rob Portman in November.”
A bruising campaign is on tap. Speaking to his supporters in Columbus, Strickland said he was running “because I’m on your side, and Rob Portman is actually hurting you.”
Portman’s campaign is expected to hammer away at Strickland’s record as governor from 2007 through the end of 2010, when the state shed more than 350,000 jobs.
But the attacks against Strickland carry some risk. The Ohio economy was crippled by the 2008 financial collapse of Wall Street, which took place during the final year of Republican George W. Bush’s presidency. Portman served as U.S. trade representative under Bush from 2005 to 2006 and White House budget director from 2006 to 2007.
Strickland also is expected to vigorously challenge Portman on the issue of free trade. Although Ohio’s three largest trading partners are Canada, Mexico and China, organized labor and progressives have argued that the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China in 2000 have cost Ohio thousands of manufacturing jobs.
During his conference call, Portman said he is looking to a debate with Strickland on trade.
“If you are against exports, which Ted Strickland is, then you are not helping Ohio’s workers and farmers,” Portman said.
Will Perkins of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.
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