COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The lone Democrat elected to top statewide office in Ohio is slamming his party for its weekend endorsement of former Gov. Ted Strickland in the race for U.S. Senate.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, in a “personal heartfelt message” posted Sunday, urged his nearly 2,500 Facebook friends to “leave the Ohio Democratic Party immediately.”
O’Neill, who has a history of criticizing party politics, called Strickland a “dear friend” but said the decision to endorse Strickland over Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in next year’s Democratic primary was misguided.
“When you see Ted, give him a hug and kiss him good bye,” O’Neill wrote. “He is a walking dead man. It is now very clear to me that we learned NOTHING with the devastating losses last year. NOTHING.”
O’Neill said an open primary would have put Democrats in a much stronger position headed into next fall’s general election against Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
A party spokeswoman said the 102 executive committee members present at the meeting held a “robust, healthy and public debate” on the same concerns raised by O’Neill but decided through a democratic process to go forward with the endorsement, with 80 percent backing Strickland.
“With that clear direction, the party is excited to stand with a candidate who has fought for Ohio’s working families for decades, leads Senator Portman by nine points, has been endorsed by Senator Sherrod Brown, President Bill Clinton, the DSCC, and three out of the four members of Ohio’s Democratic Congressional Caucus, among many other officials,” spokeswoman Meredith Tucker said in an email.
Strickland, who also spent a decade in Congress, has defended his record as governor.
People are divided over whether party rules allowed the committee to endorse him as it did. Party officials say everything was proper and Sittenfeld could have won similar backing.
Sittenfeld spent the day on the campaign trail. He issued a statement questioning “a small group of party officials” handing out the endorsement.
Tucker said the executive committee is the party’s governing body.
O’Neill is Democrats’ only sitting statewide official. Ohio’s senior U.S. senator, Brown, is also a Democrat.
The justice’s read on party bylaws is that they needed to wait until the election year or at minimum announce the endorsement vote ahead of time. He called it “a backroom deal.”
“I had no idea that the party had plans to shoot itself in the foot on Saturday,” he said. “Had I known they were going to do this, I would have been present.”
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)