the Beacon Journal editorial board

Ted Strickland fails to see the opportunity in joining a series of debates as he campaigns for the U.S. Senate. The former Ohio governor and U.S. House member doesnít want to give his opponent, P.G. Sittenfeld, a vehicle for drawing attention. Strickland has taken that safe stand even though he is running far ahead in the polls and his troubled Ohio Democratic Party could use an elevated profile.

It is a virtual lock, debates or no debates, that Strickland will prevail in the Democratic primary and face U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, the Republican incumbent, in the fall. That said, Sittenfeld has proved the stronger candidate in this race, in the positions he has taken and the future he sees for the party in the state. We recommend the election of P.G. Sittenfeld on March 15.

No question, there is a vast gap in experience, Strickland, 74, with all those years in Washington and four years as the chief executive of the state. Sittenfeld is 31, a member of the Cincinnati City Council the past four years. What Sittenfeld has brought to this campaign is a command of the issues, foreign and domestic, and a refreshing set of priorities. If he has a much shorter resume, he has put his experience to effective use, especially what he has learned as Cincinnati has confronted deep problems of race and police misbehavior. He has worked with the city schools to address the barriers that poverty poses to children.

All of this has developed into a clear understanding of the role that cities must play in sustaining prosperity and improving the quality of life. Cities and their surroundings are the engines of the economy. Invest there, and the return will be substantial. Such a voice would be valuable on Capitol Hill, and the record suggests Strickland would do little to fill that role.

Sittenfeld has tried to make much of Strickland shifting his position on gun regulations. Once proud of his A rating from the National Rifle Association, Strickland now favors more comprehensive background checks and other restrictions. What distinguishes Sittenfeld is his greater awareness and grasp of how the gun question fits into the larger picture of race relations, policing and urban life.

This isnít to diminish the contribution of Ted Strickland. He was a much better governor than his critics contend. He put forward a most promising school funding formula (albeit not fully funded). He set in motion efforts to mold a more coherent system of higher education. His successor takes credit for plugging a huge budget hole. Actually, the state budget was balanced under Strickland, as required by law. In a punishing recession, he made tough choices.

On many issues, Strickland and Sittenfeld agree. Yet, if anything, both would have benefited from debates, Strickland getting sharper for the general election run. Debates would have helped the Democratic Party in revealing that it has more vitality than many Ohioans realize. P.G. Sittenfeld is a significant part of that new energy, bolstered by substance and ambition, in the best sense. He has been the better candidate in this primary campaign.

There is a third candidate on the ballot in the Democratic primary, Kellie Prather, an occupational therapist from Cincinnati.