US Senate race in Ohio failing to live up to pre-election hype


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If you’re running in a competitive election in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, you should have received a letter in the mail asking you to fill out The Vindicator’s online questionnaire. If you didn’t get one, please email me at skolnick@vindy.com or call 330-747-1471 ext. 1264 and I can send it to you. If you received one, please fill out the questionnaire as soon as possible.

Among the Youngstown charter amendment issues on the Nov. 8 ballot is a part-time workers bill of rights. It’s backed by Bob Goodrich, a Grand Rapids, Mich., businessman, who targeted Youngstown and Cleveland in an effort to get women to vote in a key swing state. However, a majority of the people on the committee backing the proposal in Cleveland agreed to withdraw the issue from the ballot. The Mahoning County Board of Elections officially certified it to the Youngstown ballot on Wednesday.

Despite some vulnerability on issues, all signs point to Rob Portman winning a re-election bid in a year that wasn’t supposed to be a good one for incumbent Republican members of the U.S. Senate in swing states.

Ex-Gov. Ted Strickland, the Democratic challenger, is trailing in polls – the distance between him and Portman increases with practically every new one.

Not only has his campaign failed to generate the amount of money to run an effective campaign, but the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Senate Majority PAC, which propped Strickland up with million of dollars on attack ads against Portman, have abandoned the former governor when he needed them the most.

While labor unions are continuing to support Strickland, they haven’t invested the amount of money that the DSCC and Senate Majority did in the campaign. The two have canceled about $7 million in commercials for Strickland and that number is only going to increase.

Strickland started airing TV commercials Aug. 10. He told me two days later that he was likely trailing Portman by about 4 or 5 percentage points and the ads would change the race.

“My ad is the first positive message that the people of Ohio have heard from me in this entire race,” he said.

Strickland was correct that the race would drastically change in the coming weeks, but not how he expected.

At the time, Strickland was behind Portman in the polls by 6.4 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics.com, a website that aggregates polling data. As of today, Strickland is down 13.4 percentage points after two devastating polls show him trailing Portman by 17 and 21 percentage points. A Suffolk University poll released Thursday has Strickland behind by 8 percentage points.

Strickland’s campaign points to 2010 polls when he was seeking re-election in 2010 to governor against Republican John Kasich.

In mid-September polls of that year, Strickland was 8.3 percentage points behind Kasich. Strickland ended up losing by only 2 percentage points in a terrible year for Democrats.

However, Strickland had a lot of money to spend in the final stretch of that campaign, and had strong backing from outside groups in 2010. He closed the gap, though not enough to win that year.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, who looks at Strickland as a political mentor, said the DSCC “is making a mistake” canceling commercials. “I do believe this race will be a lot closer.”

The “voter turnout operation” of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton “will far surpass that of” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Ryan said.

“If [the DSCC] doesn’t get in I think they’re going to regret it,” he said.

Ryan added: “It’s a big, big mistake [Senate Majority PAC] is making.”

Ryan compared it to the 2000 presidential election when Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore and his allies abandoned Ohio toward the end of that campaign and focused financial resources on Florida. Gore lost Ohio by 3.5 percentage points though he lost Florida by 537 votes so Democrats probably made the right move regarding Florida.

The other question about Strickland being competitive is he and Clinton were supposed to help each other in different parts of the state where they are strong, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Recent polls show Trump with a slight lead over Clinton in Ohio so any thoughts that Strickland would ride her coattails won’t materialize. Clinton is fighting for her political life in Ohio and in other states.

Also, Portman is playing both sides with Trump. He is publicly supporting Trump when asked by reporters, but not campaigning with the presidential nominee.

The “sort of connection” to Trump hasn’t hurt Portman, who is polling considerably higher than Trump.

Portman’s campaign has been highly sophisticated, well run and disciplined, sticking to its game plan even when a poll in April 2015 had Strickland up by 9 percentage points.

After Strickland ran a positive ad touting his background, the next commercial had him defending himself against criticism from outside groups that he was a fiscally irresponsible governor.

Depending on the source, Portman and his allies have spent about $31 million to $37 million on TV commercials. Nearly all of the outside group money has gone toward negative ads about Strickland that has caused damage. Strickland and his allies have spent about $16 million. The outside money has hit Portman on a variety of issues, but hasn’t done any damage to his campaign.

A strong sign that Republicans believe Portman will win is their outside special-interest groups have also canceled TV ads bashing Strickland.

It looks like national Democrats have written off Strickland. In a Wednesday email sent by the Hillary Victory Fund – a joint fund-raising committee of Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and numerous state parties including Ohio – that hits up people for money, it lists five competitive U.S. Senate races. Ohio, which at one point was considered among the most competitive, didn’t make the email list.

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