Some observers feel Ohio’s US Senate contest is all but over, with incumbent Rob Portman leading Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland by around 15 points. But the candidates are continuing their tour of the state with three debates – the first was Friday in Youngstown, and last night they met in Columbus.
It didn’t take long after opening statements to get to questions about the parties’ nominees. Republican Rob Portman announced he wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump after a recording of Trump bragging about what many people feel is sexual assault of women. Portman was asked with decades of inflammatory statements made by Trump, why he waited so long in pulling his endorsement. “He was the Republican nominee - still is. He won it fair and square,” Portman said. “I’m a Republican. I made an extraordinary decision not to support my own party’s nominee because I found his words that came out about a week or so ago to be so offensive and so wrong. I did support John Kasich, as you know, in the primary. And when John Kasich lost that primary and Donald Trump won it, I wanted to respect the views of the voters.”
Democrat Ted Strickland ended up praising the man he lost his last race to – Gov. John Kasich – while blasting Portman for supporting Trump till recently. “For months, he disagreed with him but he didn’t have the courage to break with him. I think he chose party over country,” Strickland said. “Gov. Kasich did the honorable thing. He said he could not support this man. And you know, I’ve applauded him for that.”
Strickland was asked about his support for Hillary Clinton, when many people see her as dishonest and untrustworthy. He responded that she’s the only one qualified to be president and said he thinks she’s honest, but has made mistakes. Portman made virtually no remarks about Clinton, saying the race was between him and Strickland. The two tangled over free trade and China – Strickland said, “Rob Portman has never met a free trade deal he did not like,” while Portman countered that “Gov. Strickland has never stood up to China.”
And they tangled over Strickland’s handling of the economy during the Great Recession. Portman says he would have done what his successor John Kasich and Republican lawmakers did – make the tax code more business-friendly. “The last thing you want to do is send Ted Strickland to the United States Senate, because more regulations – which is what he did as governor – higher taxes – which is what he did as governor – the spending that he did as governor that ended up with this $8 billion deficit, the rainy day fund that was drained to 89 cents,” Portman said.
But Strickland said the criticism for his use of the rainy day fund isn’t fair. “Senator, it was raining. You have a rainy day fund to use when it was raining! And I used the rainy day fund for its intended purpose. It would have been irresponsible of me not to have used the rainy day fund,” Strickland said.
The two seems to have some areas of agreement on support of comprehensive immigration reform and raising the minimum wage, though Portman supports a smaller increase than Strickland does and wants to index it to inflation. They closed with an invitation to answer the most egregious and unfair charge leveled against them by their opponent. Strickland went first, saying at least $40 million in outside money has done much of the attacking in this race. “If we spent our own money and we didn’t have the billionaires interfering and trying to buy this Senate seat, I think I would be ahead of this guy by 10 points,” Strickland said.
Portman shot back with a veiled reference to Democratic groups that have pulled tens of millions in funding from Strickland’s campaign. “There are no outside groups now, I suppose, but for a while he was more dependent on what he calls ‘dark money’ – outside groups and any candidate in the country,” Portman said.
About two dozen demonstrators stood outside the WBNS-TV studios where the debate was being held to protest that Green Party candidate Joe DeMare hasn’t been included in any debates. The major party candidates for US Senate meet once more for a debate on Thursday before the City Club of Cleveland.