Tight race for U.S. senate in Ohio, poll says

But more than four in 10 Ohio voters say they don’t know much about the incumbent.

Sen. Rob Portman has been in public office for much of the past two decades, but a poll released Wednesday found much of the public doesn’t know who he is.

Quinnipiac University pollsters found that the Senate race between Portman and Democratic former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland — one of the most expensive and closely watched races in the country — is too close to call, with 43 percent supporting Strickland and 42 percent supporting Portman.


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But in a more surprising finding, 42 percent said they did not know enough about Portman to form an opinion about him. Asked the same question about Strickland, 31 percent gave that particular answer.

“Here’s the good news for Sen. Portman — he’s in a dead heat and more people know his opponent than know him,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “The bad news is he’s been in office almost six years and made very little impression on 40-plus percent of the voters.”

Brown said the low name recognition was “unusually high” for a sitting senator.

Portman – who has $13.5 million in the bank to Strickland’s $2.7 million as of March 31 – has released a flurry of targeted web ads in the state. His campaign has also launched expansive volunteer efforts aimed at making nearly 2 million voter contact months earlier than campaigns traditionally do.

They insist that they’re not worried about introducing him to the voters.

“To know Rob Portman is to like him, and to know Ted Strickland is to dislike him,” said Corry Bliss, Portman’s campaign manager. “Because Strickland has the worst record of any Senate candidate in America.”

But Strickland campaign spokesman David Bergstein said Portman’s lack of name recognition is an indication of how “disconnected he is from the people of Ohio. Whether it’s voting for eight unfair, job-killing trade deals that have sent hundreds of thousands of Ohio jobs overseas to places like China, wanting Donald Trump to reshape the makeup of the Supreme Court, or jeopardizing retirement security for seniors, Portman’s record represents everything Ohioans can’t stand about Washington.”

The race has tightened since Quinnipiac took the first poll of the race more than a year ago. At that time, Strickland was up nine points. In the last poll, in February, that lead has been cut to two points.

In other poll results:

  • Forty-seven percent of Ohio voters approve of federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and 56 percent say the Senate should consider the nomination.
  • Fifty-eight percent say Gov. John Kasich is doing a good job as governor, while 46 percent give U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, that same rating. Both have been mentioned as possible vice-presidential candidates
  • Fifty percent say President Barack Obama is doing a good job, while 45 percent disapprove of the job he is doing.
  • And 90 percent approve of legalizing medical marijuana. Acting on public support and political pressure, the Ohio House voted this week in favor of a bill to allow doctors to recommend marijuana use to their patients for a limited number of conditions. Also, 52 percent support allowing adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use — something that is not included in the pending legislation.

The poll was taken between April 27 through May 8. Pollsters questioned 1,042 registered Ohio voters. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

Michelle Everhart of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.