Ohio Senate race bucking national trend

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland

While races are tight elsewhere, GOP’s Portman well ahead in Ohio.

Donald Trump’s controversial candidacy may be harming Republican Senate incumbents in some key battleground states, but Ohio seems to be an exception to the rule.

Not only is Republican Sen. Rob Portman winning over former Gov. Ted Strickland, according to polls taken in recent weeks, he is winning by double-digits.

“A lot of Republican senators would give their eye teeth to be where Portman is,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

So why are things so different here?

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Experts say the huge money advantage Portman has had since the beginning of race can’t be dismissed. Even before national Democrats pulled some of their Strickland ad money, he was getting badly outspent.

But Portman has also had a laser focus on his own race while showing only tepid support for Trump before pulling it entirely after a videotape surfaced last weekend in which Trump made casual references to sexual assault made on an Access Hollywood bus.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken after Portman pulled his Trump support shows him with an 18-point lead over Strickland.

Thomas Sutton, a professor of political science at Baldwin Wallace University, said Portman benefited early by outside money and from hammering away at Strickland’s record as governor, even as he worked to increase his own name identification. Because of that, he managed to pull ahead in the polls long before Trump’s comments were leaked, he said.

Strickland’s financial disadvantage has also hindered his ability to link Portman with the Trump statements; While Portman had $7.6 million in the bank as of Sept. 30, Strickland, who has yet to release his latest campaign finance report, had $3.7 million in the bank as of June 30.

“A lot of what happened in the last week or two related to Trump isn’t affecting Portman because Strickland can’t go after him,” said Sutton. “He doesn’t have the money to spend on advertising.”

Earlier this month, both the Democratic Senatorial Committee and the Senate Majority PAC — a PAC led by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. — pulled the last of what had once been $20 million worth of ads in the state. Both organizations had already spent $20 million. The cancellations mean Strickland is essentially fighting his own battle in the final days of the race.

“The most impactful thing that happened in the Ohio Senate race this week is that the DSCC and Harry Reid’s super PAC officially cancelled the last of the $20 million they’d reserved for Ted Strickland,” said Portman campaign manager Corry Bliss.

David Bergstein, a Strickland spokesman, said the Trump comments provided a boost.

“The Strickland campaign is launching an aggressive paid media effort to capitalize on this moment and the new dynamic in the campaign,” he said.

Bergstein said the reports about Trump’s behavior have the potential “to have a powerful impact on the composition of the electorate that shows up on Election Day,” and argues that it’ll both irritate Republicans angry that Portman has rescinded his endorsement of Trump and angry about Trump’s behavior.

Bliss dismissed that.

“Last time I checked, Ted Strickland is still Ted Strickland,” he said. “And Ted Strickland is both the worst Senate candidate in the country who’s run the worst campaign in the country.”

Political analysts say while Trump may still have an impact on the Senate race, they doubt it will swing the race.

“You can safely say it will be an issue,” said Jennifer Duffy a senior editor for the Cook Political Report. “But does that mean they vote for Strickland? I find that hard to believe.”

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