CINCINNATI (AP) – Former President Bill Clinton threw his heavyweight endorsement Tuesday behind former Gov. Ted Strickland’s U.S. Senate bid while Strickland’s Democratic primary opponent made clear he’s not ready to back away.
Strickland has long ties to the Clintons and was a leading supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton in her 2008 Ohio presidential primary victory over Barack Obama. The early endorsement comes with Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld also seeking the Democratic nomination in a primary more than a year away.
It’s another signal of the importance to both major parties of the race for the seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman. Portman, a veteran congressman and former Bush White House budget chief and U.S. trade representative, has been piling up campaign funds and Republican backing for months for his re-election effort. The race could be pivotal in the Democratic bid to win back a Senate majority while potentially affecting the presidential race in the swing state that assuredly would be important to Hillary Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee.
Bill Clinton said in a statement that Strickland, 73, offers a proven record of service to working Ohioans and has qualities including determination and idealism.
“He knows how to reach across the aisle to find common ground and when Ohioans need him to stand his ground,” Clinton said. “No one will care more, know more and work harder for better opportunities for every Ohioan.”
Strickland was first elected to Congress in 1992, Clinton’s first presidential election. Clinton carried Ohio twice.
Sittenfeld’s campaign said shortly after the Clinton endorsement announcement Tuesday that veteran Ohio political strategist Dale Butland has signed on as a senior adviser and spokesman. Butland said Clinton’s endorsement wasn’t a surprise, calling it “returning the favor” for Strickland’s past support.
Butland, a longtime aide to former U.S. Sen. John Glenn, the Democrat and space hero, has been involved with five Senate campaigns in Ohio.
“I sincerely believe that Democrats need a new generation of leaders,” said Butland, who most recently has been with the liberal policy group Innovation Ohio.
Clinton’s endorsement follows backing of Strickland in recent weeks by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Ohio’s Democratic U.S. senator, Sherrod Brown, but Butland said the 30-year-old Sittenfeld remains committed to a primary contest.
“The primary campaign will not be won on the basis of the most endorsements,” Butland said. “PG is running. He is not dropping out because he believes rank-and-file Democrats deserve a choice.”
The Democratic candidates both spoke Friday night at an annual party dinner in Columbus. Strickland said he has the maturity and experience needed in Congress. Sittenfeld said Democrats need to make the election about the future.
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