Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland - considered by Democrats their strongest candidate to unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014 - announced Tuesday morning he will not be a candidate.
"Today, I am announcing my decision not to seek election as governor of Ohio in 2014,'' the 71-year-old Strickland said in a statement released Tuesday morning by the Ohio Democratic Party.
"In many ways, this has been a difficult decision,'' said Strickland, who lost his bid for re-election to Kasich in 2010. "I look back fondly on my time as Ohio's 68th governor - and am proud of my administration's efforts to guide our state through the greatest national economic crisis since the Great Depression."
Strickland was considered the Democrats' strongest candidate potential candidate to take on Kasich in 2014; and the polling over the past few years bore that out - many of them showed Strickland running ahead of Kasich in a theoretical match-up.
But Kasich's job approval ratings - abysmally low at the beginning of his administration - have been steadily rising, but he is still well under 50 percent, according to a December Quinnipiac University Poll.
Without Strickland in the race, the field is wide open for potential Democratic candidates. Edward FitzGerald, the county executive of Cuyahoga County, has been actively campaigning for governor. Former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray, who now works in the Obama administration, is also considered a possible candidate. Congressman Tim Ryan of Niles is also said to be considering a run for governor.
Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett put out a written statement Tuesday morning saying any Democrat thinking of taking on Kasich should think twice.
"Ohio has made giant leaps in progress in two short years under John Kasich and it will be hard for any Democrat to argue why he shouldn't continue to create jobs for hardworking Ohio families and put Ohio back on the right track,'' Bennett said.
Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke said that while Strickland "probably" would have been the strongest candidate for his party, "we still have time; and it is over a year from the filing deadline."
Burke said that Strickland, "while he looks younger, and worked incredibly hard for the re-election of President Obama, is not a young man; and there is something to be said for opening up the party to younger candidates."
Strickland lost the governor's office in a close and hotly contested race in 2010, taking 47 percent to Kasich's 49 percent. Kasich and his Republican allies hammered at Strickland, accusing him of being responsible for the state losing 400,000 jobs on his watch. Strickland argued that, under the tough national economic conditions, it could have been much worse, had it not been for his administration and help from the Obama administration.
Strickland, a former congressman originally from Scioto County, did not explain his reasoning for deciding not to get into the 2014 race in the statement released Tuesday.
Strickland campaigned hard throughout Ohio for President Obama last fall; and, in 2011, stumped across the state urging voters to repeal Senate Bill 5, which would have limited the collective bargaining power of public employees unions. Voters repealedsaid Senate Bill 5 by a large margin.
In the statement, Strickland and his wife Frances "will continue to be politically active as private citizens. We will continue to stand with working men and women to build a stronger Ohio - and to defeat anti-worker and anti-middle class legislation that may arise."
Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern praised Strickland, saying the former governor "laid the groundwork for our economic recovery, all the while preserving the state's social safety net, passing a budget with unanimous, bipartisan backing, championing transparency and supporting schools and communities from every corner of Ohio."
Redfern said Democrats are "prepared to hold this administration accountable." He pointed to the December Quinnipiac Poll as proof that Kasich is vulnerable. In that poll, only 36 percent of Ohio voters surveyed said they believed Kasich should be re-elected.