Incumbent Portman has edge in US Senate race

When in doubt about an election, vote your self-interest. That rule of thumb has guided many a confused voter – especially in times of great political turmoil.

This year’s presidential election has roiled the waters as never before, triggering a backlash from undecided voters. As a result, down-ballot races are also being viewed with trepidation.

For us, the contest for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Rob Portman falls under the heading “Uncertain.” The reason: Portman, who is seeking a second six-year term, is being challenged by Democrat Ted Strickland, who served as governor of Ohio from 2007 to 2010. We supported Strickland in both his gubernatorial races. He lost his re-election bid in 2010 to Republican John Kasich. We also backed Strickland in this year’s Democratic primary.

In the Senate race six years ago, we endorsed Democrat Lee Fisher, who was Ohio’s lieutenant governor at the time.

The fact that Strickland has been out of elected office for six years does factor into this year’s race. But that isn’t the only reason for our uncertainty. We are also acutely aware that the national Democratic Party has just about written off the race. Strickland’s bid to oust the incumbent, Portman, is made all the more difficult by his lack of money, which is essential for conducting a statewide campaign.

But our uncertainty about this contest is also the result of our having disagreed with Portman over the years on a variety of issues.

We were especially critical of his joining with the GOP majority in the Senate in refusing to hold a hearing on President Barack Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Obama selected federal Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Garland, a judicial moderate, is imminently qualified and had previously been unanimously approved by the Senate.

In the end, however, we find ourselves supporting Portman’s re-election bid. Why?

For the simple reason that he has shown a willingness to protect the Mahoning Valley’s self-interest. There are three issues of paramount importance to this region’s economic well-being: The future of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township, the future of General Motors’ assembly plant in Lordstown and the future of the specialty steel mills, led by the $1.5 billion Vallourec Star pipe-making facility in Youngstown-Girard.

Important ally

Portman, as a member of the majority in the Senate, has proved to be an important ally in Washington for the Valley. He has worked closely with U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, and Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, and also with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to ensure the Lordstown assembly plant’s viability and assist area steel mills in their battles against dumping of products by foreign manufacturers.

But it is Portman’s commitment to the continued stability and growth of the Air Force Reserve Station that leads us to the conclusion that a second term is warranted.

The importance of the military installation to this region has been laid out in great detail in this space many times over. However, we are concerned that with the cuts in defense spending, the Pentagon is being forced to reassess its operations, including the reserve missions.

Although the Youngstown Air Reserve Station is home to the only fixed-wing aerial spray unit in the country, the fleet of transport airplanes could easily be reassigned to other bases.

Indeed, the number of C-130H aircraft has been reduced from 12 to eight. Four were sent to other facilities.

In addition, the planes need to be replaced by the newer C-130J models, which are being built. However, the Pentagon says Congress must provide more funding if they are to be assigned to the Youngstown base.

That’s where Portman, as a member of the majority in the Senate, can play an important role. Even if Democrats take control next year, the senator, along with Brown, would be in a position to persuade his Republican colleagues to vote in favor of providing more funding for the base.

With so much hanging in the balance in the Mahoning Valley, The Vindicator endorses Portman for another term.

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