In a surprising development, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has already given his personal endorsement to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8), the recently announced Maryland senatorial candidate. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) announced last week that she will retire at the end of the current Congress, launching what promises to be a very crowded Democratic primary to replace her.
Van Hollen has been on the inside of the House Democratic leadership almost since his original election in 2002, and he is known as a highly ambitious politician. Therefore, through his positioning within the House conference, the Montgomery County congressman was able to develop a relationship with Sen. Reid. But, it is still unusual that a Senate leader would involve himself so quickly in a contested primary when so many Democratic delegation members appear inclined to run. Speculation continues that Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD-4), for example, is just days away from announcing her own candidacy.
In other Maryland news, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (D) announced that he will not enter the Senate race. Kamenetz had been prominently mentioned as a possible candidate in the early speculation immediately after Sen. Mikulski’s announcement.
On the Republican side, former US Senate and congressional district nominee Dan Bongino did make an announcement as promised, but it was not about launching another political campaign. Instead, he made public the establishment of a new political action committee.
Bongino is a likely candidate for some office in 2016. While expressing interest in joining the Senate race, he is also keeping his eye on the 6th Congressional District. Last November, Bongino held Rep. John Delaney (D) to a scant 50-48 percent re-election victory, a result that surprised virtually every political observer. Should Delaney enter the Senate picture, and he is publicly considering doing so, Bongino could then retreat into an open 6th District campaign, which might give him his best chance for victory.
Public Policy Polling, surveying for the Ohio Democratic Party (March 2-3; 946 registered Ohio voters), found newly announced senatorial candidate Ted Strickland (D) already climbing into a dead heat with Sen. Rob Portman (R). Strickland, a former one-term governor and veteran US House member, announced that he would challenge Portman on Feb. 25.
Now, the first public numbers put Strickland on an even footing with the first-term senator, a former Office of Management & Budget Director and twelve-year US Representative. According to the PPP results, both Sen. Portman and former Gov. Strickland command 45 percent of the respondents’ preference.
If Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld were the Democratic nominee, Portman would lead him 50-31 percent. Reportedly, Ohio Democratic leaders are attempting to persuade Sittenfeld to drop his Senate bid in order to unite the entire party behind Strickland. So far, the local Cincinnati public official has given no indication that he is ready to follow that course of action.
The PPP survey results are not particularly surprising. Strickland received a great deal of positive statewide coverage for his announcement; Republicans tend to run better in Ohio than they typically poll; and the Buckeye State is becoming the quintessential political swing state. Therefore, like Florida and Virginia, all Ohio statewide campaigns have the potential of being tightly split.
Despite this poll, Sen. Portman has an edge in this race. He is the superior fund raiser, already has a strong organization built throughout the state, and can boast of a better record than Strickland who went down to defeat in his 2010 gubernatorial re-election campaign.
This particular Senate campaign will attract a great deal of national attention over the course of the election cycle, especially with the presidential race conceivably being decided upon how this state votes. Therefore, we can be assured of seeing a great many Portman-Strickland polls released into the public domain during the coming months.