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“Mr. Portman, seeking election to a second term, has lower name-recognition than would be expected for a U.S. senator and faces the challenge that presidential elections tend to favor the Democratic candidate.”
“Democrats say the Republican presidential ticket, starting with what could be a tumultuous Republican convention in Cleveland, can do no good for Mr. Portman. And they say they believe Mr. Portman, whom they call Beltway Rob, is vulnerable for a record of supporting free trade agreements and of being seen as a Washington insider in a year when voters are looking for outsiders.”
“Two respected national election-watchers, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and freelancer Charlie Cook, have in the past month and a half changed their prediction of Ohio’s Senate contest from leaning Republican to 'toss-up.'"
“Said Mr. Cook in late March, “Portman’s vulnerability stems largely from not being well defined. Voters don’t know much about him or what he has done in the Senate, which gives Democrats the opportunity to fill in those lines.”
“Morning Consult found that Mr. Portman was the third least-known member of the U.S. Senate in his home state.”
Trump candidacy looms over race for Senate seat
Toledo Blade, Tom Troy
May 1, 2016
With Donald Trump increasingly likely to be at the head of the Republican ticket this year, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio plans to encourage “ticket-splitting” to avoid being dragged under by a potentially unpopular presidential candidate.
And look for the campaign of Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland to try to make sure that voters know exactly who’s sharing the Republican side of the ballot with Mr. Trump.
The contest between the two veteran Ohio politicians is one of a handful of close Senate races nationwide that will decide which political party controls the Senate, now under Republican leadership.
Mr. Portman, seeking election to a second term, has lower name-recognition than would be expected for a U.S. senator and faces the challenge that presidential elections tend to favor the Democratic candidate.
Add to the equation the polling that, if the election were held today, Mr. Trump would lose to Democrat Hillary Clinton, and there’s the potential for a Democratic victory on Nov. 8 in Ohio. The RealClearPolitics.com average of polls shows Mrs. Clinton beating Mr. Trump in Ohio by 46.3 percent to 42.3 percent. However, a Quinnipiac poll in February had Mr. Trump in the lead, 44 to 42 percent.
“We’re focused on ticket-splitters and independent voters, people in the middle,” Portman spokesman Corry Bliss said.
He said the approach is to meet the voters and show how Mr. Portman can be their candidate. The campaign has already contacted 1.7 million voters. For example, he said the campaign is finding the epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction is key with voters.
“Rob has quite an impressive record on that issue,” Mr. Bliss said, citing Mr. Portman’s co-authorship of the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act now awaiting a vote in the House. If that’s your issue, “even though you’re going to vote for Hillary Clinton, you’re still going to vote for Rob Portman.”
“If your most important issue is national security, I doubt you’re going to vote for the guy who supports the nuclear treaty with Iran,” Mr. Bliss said. “We’ve been working our program for over a year, very sophisticated, very data driven, to win a close race.”
Democrats say the Republican presidential ticket, starting with what could be a tumultuous Republican convention in Cleveland, can do no good for Mr. Portman.
And they say they believe Mr. Portman, whom they call Beltway Rob, is vulnerable for a record of supporting free trade agreements and of being seen as a Washington insider in a year when voters are looking for outsiders.
“The convention in Cleveland is shaping up to be an utter disaster for Senator Portman — and everyone agrees that there’s nothing he can do to distract from the embarrassing political mess that will be front and center in his own home state,” said Daniel van Hoogstraten, Ohio Democratic spokesman.
He said Mr. Trump and the convention “are guaranteed” to turn off the independent voters who decide Ohio’s general election.
Jo Ann Davidson, the female Republican national committee member from Ohio, said it is yet to be proven that the candidate at the top of the ticket will send voters into the arms of Democrats.
“I think senators run separately anyway. He’s way out ahead on his campaign. ... Strickland is going to get a lot of help from the Clintons probably, but I think Rob has done a great job getting out there early,” Ms. Davidson said.
It’s been predicted that $100 million will be spent to woo Ohio voters, which would be a record for an Ohio Senate race. The race is already known as the highest-spending Senate race in the country. The Portman campaign, as of the end of March, had raised $18.2 million, compared with $5.2 million raised by Mr. Strickland.
Two respected national election-watchers, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and freelancer Charlie Cook, have in the past month and a half changed their prediction of Ohio’s Senate contest from leaning Republican to “toss-up.” Said Mr. Cook in late March, “Portman’s vulnerability stems largely from not being well defined. Voters don’t know much about him or what he has done in the Senate, which gives Democrats the opportunity to fill in those lines.”
Professor Sabato’s newsletter, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, did the same thing two weeks later, rebranding the Ohio race as a toss-up.
Twenty-four of the 36 Senate seats up for election this year are held by Republicans. If Republicans lose five of those seats, Democrats are back in charge.
The Strickland campaign is tapping into growing disenchantment with free trade agreements that many believe have robbed Ohio of tens of thousands of good manufacturing jobs.
“Strickland is someone voters in Ohio like and his message of standing up for the working class and coming from the working class is in line with the populist energy that is in the electorate right now,” said David Bergstein, spokesman for Mr. Strickland.
“Rob’s record as the ultimate Washington insider, unabashed support for unfair trade deals that have shipped jobs to China, refusal to do his job and consider the Supreme Court nomination, coupled with a potentially toxic Republican presidential candidate is all damaging Rob Portman’s chances,” Mr. Bergstein asserted.
A poll by Quinnipiac University in February found that 39 percent of voters didn’t know Mr. Portman well enough to have an opinion.
But on the plus side for Senator Portman is that among those voters who know him, more than twice as many — 42 percent to 18 percent — had a favorable opinion.
The Democratic firm Morning Consult found that Mr. Portman was the third least-known member of the U.S. Senate in his home state.
Mr. Strickland is better known, but still carries the baggage of his 2007-2010 term as governor which coincided with the Great Recession when Ohio lost at least 350,000 jobs. His most recent Quinnipiac ratings are 42 percent favorable and 31 percent unfavorable.
According to that same poll — taken way back in February before both sides had begun to roll out a barrage of online advertising — Mr. Strickland led Mr. Portman by 44 percent to 42 percent. That leaves plenty of space for both men to win over the swing voters they need to win. Also running is Green candidate Joseph DeMare.
Born and raised in Lucasville in Appalachian Ohio, Mr. Strickland, 74, is an ordained Methodist minister and served in Congress from 1993-1994, and then 1997 to 2006, when he was elected governor in 2006. After his defeat by Republican John Kasich, Mr. Strickland became president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington.
Mr. Portman grew up in the Cincinnati area, became a lawyer, and served in Congress from 1993 to 2005 when he stepped down to put in one year each as President George W. Bush’s U.S. trade representative and budget director. After 2006, he was a lawyer and lobbyist, returning to politics with his run for the seat formerly held by Republican George Voinovich in 2010.
Mr. Bliss says he doesn’t believe the race is as close as it might look. The Portman campaign says that Mr. Strickland himself fits the definition of Washington insider, having served the same number of years in Congress as Mr. Portman and having been associated with a lobbying firm and a political action committee.
He contends that if the Portman campaign is taking steps to insulate Mr. Portman from a potentially unpopular Republican presidential candidate, Mr. Strickland’s campaign amounts to “hiding in his office and hoping that Hillary Clinton wins Ohio and drags him across the finish line.”
“This race is going to be about does Ohio want to run backward with Retread Ted, or forward with Rob Portman and his record,” Mr. Bliss said.
Mr. Bliss declined to say whether Mr. Portman is distancing himself from a potential Trump nomination, and said the campaign plan they are following was set before any candidates announced and for a worst-case scenario.
“Our program is about us winning in any circumstances,” he said.
Mr. Portman endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich for the nomination and has refused to say whether he’ll support Mr. Trump if he wins the nomination other than to say he will support the GOP nominee “unless something crazy happens.”
For Immediate Release: May 2, 2016
Contact: David Bergstein or Liz Margolis, press@TedStrickland.com