CINCINNATI (AP) – Now, Ted Strickland wants to debate.
The Democratic ex-governor seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said Monday he wants at least five debates leading up to the general election. He said he wrote to Portman proposing debates in each of Ohio’s five main regions to highlight their priorities on key issues.
Portman’s campaign said he’s eager to debate Strickland, and that the campaign has been receiving debate requests and will work out details with Strickland’s campaign.
Portman campaign spokeswoman Michawn Rich said by email that the proposal “comes as a welcome surprise” after Strickland refused repeated calls for a series of debates with his leading Democratic primary opponent, Cincinnati councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Before handily winning the March 15 primary, Strickland said he didn’t see a need to give Sittenfeld a platform.
Strickland spokesman David Bergstein said there are “serious policy differences” in the general election that didn’t exist in the primary.
The swing-state race is being closely watched nationally, as Democrats target Ohio as among possible opportunities to win enough seats to retake a Senate majority.
Portman has enjoyed a significant fundraising advantage so far, and Strickland’s letter said a series of debates would help reduce “the undue influence of Super PAC money.”
Among issues Strickland has been hammering at is Portman’s opposition to filling the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy during the election year. Portman has scheduled a meeting in Washington on Thursday with President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
Strickland and Portman are former congressional colleagues who both represented southern Ohio areas. Portman has earned a reputation as a debate expert, helping other Republicans including presidential nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain prepare for their debates.