Former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman James Ruvolo said Thursday that Sen. Rob Portman’s “worst nightmare” is that Democrats will nominate 30-year-old P.G. Sittenfeld for the Senate race next year instead of former Gov. Ted Strickland, our Washington reporter Jack Torry reported Thursday after a conference call with Ruvolo.
Ruvolo stepped up his criticism of Ohio Department Chairman David Pepper, charging that he has attempted to “intimidate” Sittenfeld – a Cincinnati city councilman – into ending his primary challenge against Strickland, 73.
“We need candidates who excite people,” Ruvolo said. “Young people like P.G. and (Dayton Mayor) Nan Whaley are what this party needs to be about if we’re going to win again.”
Instead, Ruvolo warned if Democrats nominate Strickland, the 2016 Senate election against Portman, R-Ohio, will be about “the past,” adding “we already had that race in Ohio and we lost it,” referring to Strickland losing in 2010 to Republican John Kasich.
Ruvolo’s sharp criticism of Pepper shows a deep split inside the Ohio Democratic Party, which does not hold any of the non-judicial statewide offices. Republicans hope the Democratic disarray will help Portman win what is expected to be a tough re-election battle.
Ruvolo, who chaired the state party from 1983 through 1991, was “appalled” that Pepper last week told the Cincinnati Enquirer that Sittenfeld should focus more on a crime, a hint that Pepper wanted Sittenfeld to drop out of the race.
“Anyone who reads this who has any common sense at all knows this is an attempt to intimidate P.G.,” said Ruvolo, who has provided Sittenfeld with free advice and fund-raising help. “You don’t build a party by excluding and criticizing a young, aggressive candidate” whom the party needs.
Pepper, who assumed the party chair’s post this year, said Wednesday he “didn’t attack” Sittenfeld and “never called for him to leave the race.” The state party endorsed Strickland in the Senate primary.
Ruvolo said he met Wednesday evening in Toledo with Pepper who insisted he was not trying to force Sittenfeld from the race. Ruvolo said Pepper was “disappointed” when he told him he planned to hold the conference call.
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party released a statement that said, “Governor Strickland is leading Rob Portman in the polls. This attempt to re-litigate the party endorsement is a waste of time.”