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More Bad News for Democrats

Rob Portman looks like a formidable candidate for Ohio’s open Senate seat.

Mar 15, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 25 • By DAVID WOLFFORD
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Whichever Democrat wins the nomination is bound to emphasize Portman’s potential albatross—his connection with an unpopular president who left office amid economic crisis. Fisher tried this at the Democratic nondebate. “We need to rein in the reckless policies of the Bush-Portman administration,” he said, eliciting a chuckle from the crowd. Fisher accused George W. Bush of digging the biggest economic ditch of our lifetime and added, “Guess who was holding the shovel  … It was Rob Portman.”

This tactic may gain Fisher points before an audience of downcast Democrats, but Portman’s veteran campaign manager, Bob Paduchik, thinks it will backfire. Voters are looking for results from those who hold office now. 

Independents especially may respond to Portman’s fiscal record and patient, rational, bipartisan persona. As the Springfield News-Sun put it recently, “Though thoroughly conservative, [Portman’s] not generally a right-wing warrior.” By the same token, noted Rob Frost, “We can’t bank on a full GOP victory in the midterms, so we need candidates who bring an ability to work across the aisle.” In recent polls, independents favor Portman over Fisher or Brunner by 12 points.

Among likely voters generally, Portman has maintained a modest lead over either Democrat since November. Pollster Scott Rasmussen attributed this partly to the national scene. “The agenda being pursued in Washington is helping Republicans all across the country,” he noted—even as he warned that a lead in the polls this early in the campaign, when many voters are still undecided, is no guarantee. 

Rob Portman’s war chest, fiscal record, and personal reputation may be the next-best thing.

David Wolfford teaches government and politics in Cincinnati.

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