Ohio Dems spar over party support of Strickland

Infighting has broken out among Democrats in Ohio over early establishment support for former Gov. Ted Strickland's Senate run.

Jim Ruvolo, the former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, is openly warring with David Pepper, the current chairman, accusing him of trying to intimidate a Democrat running for Senate into leaving the race.

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Ruvolo is advising Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, a 30-year-old rising star in the party who is challenging Strickland for the Democratic Senate nomination. 

On Thursday, Ruvolo held a conference call with Ohio Democrats and reporters to lash out at Pepper, who said in local papers that Sittenfeld should “put in his time” and apply “his energy and his leadership” locally in Cincinnati, rather than focusing on a Senate bid. 

“When I read it I was incensed,” Ruvolo said. 

“Any reasonable person reading his comments would infer he’s trying to get P.G. out of the race and intimidate him,” he added.

Pepper pushed back hard, saying he argues to editorial boards across the state that Democratic public servants must put in their time and make sure their focus in their current jobs even if they’re running for higher office. 

“I’m not trying to run anybody down,” Pepper told The Hill. “This accusation that I’m running around intimidating and attacking candidates is ridiculous. I meet with editorial boards across the state. I’m rolling out our big picture plan. We want to be strong at all levels of government and build a solid bench of public servants. I make that argument everywhere, it has nothing to do with Sittenfeld.”

The Democratic establishment has been quick to rally around Strickland. The Ohio Democratic Party has endorsed him, as have the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, former President Clinton and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Ruvolo argued on Thursday that it’s not the state party’s place to endorse in the primaries. He said that an open contest between Democrats without the state party’s thumb on the scale would produce a better candidate.

“The primary needs to be allowed to run its course, let the Democratic voters decide,” he said. “You don’t build a party by excluding and criticizing the kind of young, aggressive candidates that our party needs.”

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Shaken Portman urges support for 'red flag' laws after Ohio shooting MORE’s (R-Ohio) campaign is fundraising off the discord.

“Now, there's even more in-fighting between the current Democratic Party Chair and a former Democratic Party Chair — and this may not surprise you — they are disagreeing over Governor Ted Strickland's candidacy,” Portman campaign manager Corry Bliss wrote in an email asking for money.

Strickland has begun pulling away from Sittenfeld on the fundraising front. The former Ohio governor raised $1.2 million in the second quarter. Sittenfeld raised only $272,000, a massive drop-off from his first-quarter haul of $750,000.

Strickland has a big lead in the polls over Sittenfeld, and a narrow lead over Portman. 

Still, Portman is likely to have a huge fundraising advantage over the eventual Democratic nominee. He hauled in $2.9 million in the second quarter, bringing his cash on hand to $10 million.