COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Democrat Ted Strickland says his run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Rob Portman will focus on expanding job and educational opportunities for average people that have been denied by GOP policies in Washington and Ohio.
Strickland formally announced his bid Wednesday, instantly escalating attacks on his record as Ohio's governor and at a liberal Washington think tank. His entry adds a formidable statewide name to what is expected to be one of the most watched and expensive of next year's Senate races.
The 73-year-old Strickland said his campaign will focus on going back to basics, such as creating living-wage jobs, investing in job-creating local infrastructure projects and making college accessible and affordable.
"The average family in Ohio understands that Washington and Wall Street are really doing very well while they are just struggling to keep their noses above water," he said in an Associated Press interview. "I want to go to the Senate and be a strong, outspoken, aggressive advocate for working people. I don't see Sen. Portman doing that. In fact, I think he's been rather passive."
Portman fired back that voting for Strickland in 2016 would represent a step backward for the state, which had heavy job losses during Strickland's time as governor, which ended with his defeat to Republican John Kasich in 2010.
"The coming months will give Ohioans an opportunity to contrast my vision for a better future for Ohio workers with his past tenure as governor when hundreds of thousands of jobs disappeared from our state," Portman said in a statement. "I'll continue fighting every day to expand opportunities for all Ohioans, working with both parties to reduce barriers to job growth and to create better paying jobs."
Portman, 59, was elected to Congress seven times and is a former White House budget chief and U.S. trade representative. He won the 2010 election with 57 percent of the vote and, as of December, reported $5.8 million on hand. He's already lined up endorsements from some 250 Republicans across the state, including Kasich and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.
Some conservatives want to see Portman draw a primary opponent after he announced in 2013 that he now supports same-sex marriage.
Portman's campaign on Wednesday launched a website called "Retread Ted," which focuses on the negative economic news from Strickland's governorship. The Ohio Republican Party was also prepared for the announcement, activating a site called "Ted Failed Ohio."
Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister who spent a decade in Congress, defended his record as governor. He said the Ohio job losses came amid a deep recession that rocked not only Ohio but also the entire country, and the state's economy was in an upturn when he left office.
"That Great Recession was caused, in large part, by Wall Street, by greed, and by the powerful looking out for themselves at the expense of average people," he said, "and so I am more than willing to defend what I did as governor to stabilize this state."
Strickland's recent work for the Center for American Progress led to criticism by Ohio groups representing coal interests and gun-rights advocates. Both opposed the center's stands on national issues.
Strickland said he remains a proponent of the Second Amendment and is working to bolster the coal industry in his native Appalachia.
Strickland would face 30-year-old Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in a Democratic primary.
Sittenfeld said he admires Strickland but has no plans to cede the Democratic nomination.
He said he's "in this race to offer new ideas for strengthening the middle class, growing educational opportunity, increasing wages, promoting a clean energy future and ensuring a secure retirement for our seniors" and isn't concerned about who's in the primary.