Sen. Portman rakes in the dough

On the side

The Mahoning County and Ohio Democratic Parties are sponsoring the “Mahoning County Chairman’s Brunch” at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Tippecanoe Country Club, 5870 Tippecanoe Road. There’s also a VIP reception from 10 to 11 a.m. Tickets are $250 for the brunch, and up to $1,000 for “platinum sponsorship.” Ex-Gov. Ted Strickland, running for U.S. Senate; state Democratic Chairman David Pepper; and Nina Turner, state Democrats’ chairwoman of party engagement, will attend along with local legislators.

The Core Team Ministry will sponsor an election forum 6:30 p.m. Monday at Union Baptist Church, 528 Lincoln Ave. in Youngstown. Those invited to speak are candidates for Youngstown council and school board, and representatives for the Community Bill of Rights anti-fracking charter amendment and city schools’ levy renewal.

The 224 Corridor Democratic Club endorsed candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot. Those endorsed : Jeff Barone for Boardman school board, Larry Moliterno for Boardman trustee, Joe Paloski for Canfield trustee, James DeCenso for Ellsworth fiscal officer, Andrea Paventi for Austintown trustee, Lauren McNally for Youngstown 5th Ward council, and Anita Davis for 6th Ward.

The latest campaign finance reports and poll in the 2016 U.S. Senate race reveal a lot of interesting dynamics at work.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, the Republican incumbent seeking his second six-year term, continues to raise a tremendous amount of money, about $7.72 million in the first nine months of this year. Before the start of the year, he had $5.81 million in his campaign fund.

Portman’s campaign says he had more than $11 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30. That means he’s already spent more than $2.5 million this year.

The Ohio Democratic Party states that “up to $9.5 million” has been spent by Portman and outside special-interest groups on negative ads online and on TV against ex-Gov. Ted Strickland, the Democratic-endorsed candidate for the Senate seat. However, Portman's campaign says that figure is greatly overstated, and the amount is closer to $2 million – about the same spent against the incumbent.

Money has certainly played a factor in reducing Strickland’s lead in polls.

For example, Strickland was up 9 percentage points on Portman in an April 6 Quinnipiac University Poll. After negative ads ran, that lead shrunk to 6 percentage points in a June 22 Q Poll. More negative ads and the Strickland lead dropped to 3 percentage points in an Aug. 25 poll. Even more negative ads, but the 3-percentage-point lead remained in an Oct. 8 poll. That is within the poll’s margin of error.

The ads definitely helped Portman but didn’t do anything to change Strickland’s lead between August and October.

The test of how effective the attack ads should come in the next few polls. If the results stay the same or Strickland’s lead increases, it could indicate that the negative ads have hit a wall, or just a temporary one. Portman and his backers have money to run the ads every day until the November 2016 election. They may choose to not run them for a while, have them return during the months leading to the general election and be effective.

Consider for a moment what Strickland’s lead would be now without those ads. Strickland is polling well, but his fundraising numbers are viewed as soft for a former governor in a very competitive Senate race.

He reported $970,741 for the third quarter, which is down from $1,038,255 he collected in the second quarter. For the first nine months of the year, he’s raised $2,679,817. Portman raised more than that in either the first and second quarters.

Strickland’s campaign says he had more than $1.5 million in his campaign fund and spent about $1.18 million.

Strickland needs to raise at least $20 million to run a successful Senate campaign. I don’t see how his campaign comes close to that amount, and he’s going to have to use some of that money for the primary.

Republicans were quick to pounce on Strickland.

“He is not even in the [$20 million] ballpark after three embarrassingly bad fundraising quarters,” said Matt Borges, state Republican chairman. “Democrats in Ohio and D.C. should be extremely worried about Ted Strickland’s campaign.”

Strickland can’t match Portman dollar for dollar. His campaign points to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat re-elected in 2012 even though Republicans spent considerably more than Democrats.

Brown raised $25 million in the 2012 cycle with about $5 million after the first nine months of that campaign. Strickland has collected a little more than half of that in the first nine months.

The new Q Poll also shows that Strickland’s favorable opinion dropped from 49 percent April 6 to 44 percent.

As for Portman, his favorable opinion rose from 38 percent in April and to 43 percent now.

The poll also shows that 44 percent of those questioned in April hadn’t heard enough about Portman to have an opinion of him. That dropped to 38 percent in October. Strickland’s name ID is considerably stronger with 21 percent of those polled in both April and October not hearing enough about him to have an opinion of the ex-governor.

The other Democrat seeking the party’s nomination in the March 2016 primary is Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

He’s raised only $1.26 million during the first nine months with about 60 percent of it in the first quarter, largely coming before Strickland announced his candidacy. Sittenfeld’s campaign reported having about $725,000 cash on hand as of Sept. 30 so he’d spent a little more than $500,000. But Sittenfeld likely paid a pretty penny to have three ads run on CNN in five Ohio media markets, including Youngstown, during Tuesday’s Democratic presidential campaign.

Sittenfeld needed to make that move. The latest Q Poll shows Portman beating Sittenfeld by 22 percentage points. It was 23 percentage points in April’s poll.

Also, Sittenfeld’s name ID is very low. Only 14 percent of those polled in the Oct. 8 poll had an opinion of him with 8 percent favorable and 6 percent unfavorable. That means 86 percent of those polled haven’t heard enough about him to have an opinion.

New Leadership, a super PAC created to help Sittenfeld, seems to be his last hope to raise money. In just two weeks, it collected $370,000.

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