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Portman: ‘Sometimes, Republicans underestimate the importance of plain old grassroots’

By David Skolnick

Saturday, January 12, 2013

By David Skolnick

By David Skolnick


Looking back at the presidential election, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, the Ohio chairman for failed Republican candidate Mitt Romney, said the campaign lost because President Barack Obama’s team outworked them in several ways.

Democrat Obama’s campaign did a better job of turning out voters, more effectively used television for commercials and perhaps most importantly, had a superior ground game, Portman, a Republican, said during a Friday interview with The Vindicator editorial board.

“Sometimes, Republicans underestimate the importance of plain old grass roots,” he said.

Obama had campaign workers in the Mahoning Valley for well over a year before the election. In comparison, Romney’s campaign didn’t arrive in the area until about five months before the election, Portman said.

Obama won Ohio, a key swing state, by 2.98 percentage points, 166,214 votes. Nationally, Obama won by 3.8 percentage points though he crushed Romney in the electoral vote, 332 to 206.

Though somewhat discounting political ads — saying voters can get oversaturated by them — Portman said he was shocked to read a Sept. 16 article in The Vindicator that showed, at the time, that Obama’s campaign had spent $3.5 million on commercials on network TV affiliates in the Valley compared with zero for Romney.

Besides emailing the article to Romney’s campaign, he personally delivered a copy of it to the candidate’s Boston headquarters.

“It was unbelievable seeing these numbers,” he said.

It wasn’t until Sept. 29 that the Romney campaign aired its first commercial in the Youngstown area.

The Romney “campaign was out of touch,” Portman said, adding the decision to wait that long was “crazy.”

On the flip-side, “Obama’s campaign was relentless. They never stopped the barrage of ads. They were targeted. They were tough, and they were going unresponded. I think [that] made a difference.”

But Portman said the Romney campaign did better in the heavily Democratic Mahoning Valley than expected. Romney received 35.15 percent of the vote in Mahoning County, and 37.54 percent in Trumbull County.

Romney lost the race in Ohio in the central part of the state, Portman said. Of 14 counties, Romney’s votes in 13 of them were below expectations.

Portman met Friday with the newspaper before visiting Dearing Compressor & Pump Co., a Boardman business that makes compressors for natural-gas exploration.

The senator said the shale boom will prove to be a great benefit to this area, pointing to V&M Star and other companies in the Valley focused on that industry.