President Obama endorsed fellow Democrat Ted Strickland of Ohio Wednesday in his bid for the U.S. Senate, despite the candidate’s past A-plus rating by the National Rifle Association and the president’s pledge not to endorse pro-gun Democrats.
“Ohioans have no greater friend than Ted Strickland,” Mr. Obama said in a statement about the former Ohio governor. “Ted is a passionate and proven champion for the middle class, and when Ohio sends him to the United States Senate, he will continue to be a tireless fighter for hardworking families.
The president’s endorsement drew a sharp reaction from the campaign of Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, an opponent of Mr. Strickland who has been making an issue of his support for gun rights. Vice President Joseph R. Biden also endorsed Mr. Strickland.
“No endorsement — no matter who it comes from — can change Ted’s A-plus rating from the NRA — or the fact that he voted against background checks, a ban on assault weapons, and every other common-sense gun safety measure that was ever put in front of him,” said Sittenfeld campaign manager Dale Butland said. “So when P.G. wins the Democratic Senate nomination on March 15, we’ll look forward to working with the president to defeat Rob Portman in November.”
In January, as part of his renewed push for gun control, Mr. Obama announced that he would not endorse or campaign on behalf of any Democratic candidates who refuse to endorse new gun control measures.
“I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform,” Mr. Obama wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times. “And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve.”
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Mr. Strickland said in 2004 he was against a federal assault-weapons ban, has opposed the Brady handgun bill and was endorsed by the NRA for re-election as governor in 2010.
Asked if Mr. Obama was ignoring his own pledge, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president’s promise “gave candidates the capacity to change their mind.” And he suggested that Mr. Strickland had agreed to support gun control measures if elected.
“What we’re focused on are candidates who will support and will promise to support common-sense gun safety legislation,” Mr. Earnest said. “You’d have to talk to Mr. Strickland about the policies that he would support as a member of the United States Senate.”
He said a candidate’s record matters, but indicated that a promise to vote for gun control in the future matters more.
“We need to see more people in the United States Congress change their mind and embrace common-sense gun control, gun safety legislation,” Mr. Earnest said.
Over the past year, Mr. Strickland has served as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, an advocacy group in Washington that lobbies for gun control measures.
Mr. Strickland said he was honored to receive the endorsements.
“President Obama and Vice President Biden have stood up for the priorities that matter to our hardworking families and have always remained focused on expanding opportunity for more Americans — and these are the same principles that I will bring to the U.S. Senate,” he said in a statement.
A poll in January showed Mr. Strickland with 61 percent support in the primary, while Mr. Sittenfeld and occupational therapist Kelli Prather each received 10 percent. Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who has been endorsed by the NRA, is running for re-election.
The president and vice president also endorsed in Florida’s Democratic Senate primary Wednesday, backing Rep. Patrick Murphy over liberal Rep. Alan Grayson. Mr. Obama called Mr. Murphy “a tireless champion for middle-class families.”
Although Mr. Obama is official neutral in the Democratic presidential primary, Mr. Murphy supports Hillary Clinton while Mr. Grayson backs Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent.
Both lawmakers are running for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who is running for president.
The latest Public Policy Polling survey showed Mr. Grayson leading Mr. Murphy, 32 percent to 22 percent, although 45 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they were undecided.
Last week, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called on Mr. Grayson to drop out of the race, saying there were “deeply troubling allegations” over Mr. Grayson’s handling of his Cayman Island hedge fund.