Did Rob Portman win an endorsement from a most unlikely ally in a most unlikely place — or does it count at all? Yesterday, Politico reported that the local Cuyahoga County chapter of the Black Lives Matter network issued a statement ripping Portman’s opponent in the upcoming Senate election, former governor Ted Strickland, for his “gross financial mismanagement” in his single term. However, it didn’t happen yesterday, and it raised questions about the legitimacy of the chapter — which its spokesman may have conceded yesterday evening:
In its endorsement statement, Black Lives Matter of Cuyahoga County, led by Jeff Mixon, criticized Strickland’s management of the state’s finances when he was Ohio governor. Mixon sits on the county Democratic Party’s executive committee, and his group endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton back in February. He did not immediately return a request seeking comment about the status of his organization with the national Black Lives Matter movement.
“In the current atmosphere of identity politics, BLMCC understands that endorsing even a well-qualified Republican such as Portman seems controversial; despite the fact that it was minorities who suffered the brunt of Ted Strickland’s gross financial mismanagement,” Mixon said in the Friday statement.
The Cuyahoga group also praised Portman and how he shepherded a significant anti-opioid measure into law this month. Portman has also been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, a major law enforcement union in Ohio, earlier this week.
If this was legit, then Portman and his team had reason to brag. Cuyahoga County is a Democratic bastion; Portman did well to get within 15 points of Lee Fisher in 2010, but Obama blew Romney out of the water, 69/30. If Portman wants to avoid that kind of result in a presidential cycle, he’d need this kind of endorsement to build his credibility.
But is this group credible? As Politico notes in its updated story, one of the network’s national co-founders disavowed the group and its endorsement later in the day:
But the Cuyahoga group is “not an official chapter of our BLM network,” Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the national Black Lives Matter network, said Friday. A spokesperson added that Black Lives Matter Cleveland is the only official chapter in Ohio, and that it had not endorsed Portman.
Most readers will already know that Cleveland is in Cuyahoga County, so there seems to be a competition for recognition in play. However, that apparently didn’t bother the national network when BLMCC (as opposed to BLMC … keep up!) endorsed the Democratic frontrunner for president during the primaries.
The more one looks at it, though, the story begins to look a bit … problematic. As Cleveland.com’s Stephen Koff points out, the endorsement actually took place two weeks ago, not yesterday or even this week. The news, such as it was, got lost in the shuffle of the conventions, but that’s not the only issue with the endorsement. When pressed by Koff on his group’s standing with the national BLM network, Mixon admitted that they’re not affiliated — but claimed to be more “savvy”:
Reached late Friday, Mixon didn’t dispute that he’s not affiliated with the national group. He said his concerns about African-American inequality, however, are no less legitimate.
And he said that by taking a political approach, he hopes to disrupt Democrats’ complacency and what he described as a party too often taking black voters for granted.
“We may not be part of the national Black Lives Matter movement, but we are much more savvy,” Mixon said.
That may be questionable, too. Koff also talked with Cuyahoga Democrats, who say that Mixon’s legitimate position on the Cuyahoga County executive committee might be at risk. Mixon has one of 600 seats on the committee, a number larger than Congress in joint session, so his influence there is limited — and may shortly come to an end.
Still, if Portman can get Mixon to come on board as a local surrogate, that’s still a significant story whether or not it carries the aegis of BLM or not. Group endorsements matter less in the end than personal connections to voters, and Mixon’s switch to a Republican candidate would at least open doors in Cuyahoga that may have remained closed before. Republicans — including Portman — need all the help they can get in Ohio.