Anatomy of a Winning Senate Campaign
Posted on September 12, 2016
This originally appeared on the website Political Storm.
It wasn’t all that clear at the beginning of the election cycle that Rob Portman, Ohio’s junior senator, would be able to coast to reelection.
The political climate was, and is, uncertain for Republican candidates across the country. Ohio is a swing state with a large, diverse population. And Portman was not so well-known that any analyst could say he was a shoo-in.
But news over the last couple of weeks has been very good for Mr. Portman. Harry Reid, the Senate Minority Leader, has instructed his Leadership Political Action Committee not to bother investing campaign money on behalf of his opponent. Similarly, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has decided not to buy ad time attacking Portman.
Here are five reasons why Portman has been able to fend off his challenger and now looks to win easily this November:
1) He defined his opponent early: on paper, Ted Strickland should have been a formidable foe. A former Governor who used to have the backing of Big Labor in a pro-Union state, Strickland had high name identification. But Portman’s campaign reminded voters early why they didn’t like Strickland in the first place: his stewardship of Ohio’s economy when it was a basket-case. With a series of on-line ads, Portman pointed out his opponent’s track record.
2) He stayed true to himself and his family: when Rob Portman came out in favor of gay marriage, he didn’t do so because it was politically expedient or because the polls showed it was a winning issue. He did it because of his personal experiences in his family. It wasn’t necessarily a popular decision with the Republican base, but his reasons were unassailable and it showed great courage at a time when not many in his party were willing to take such a position.
3) He evolved on issues important to his state: When Portman was the United States Trade Representative, he fought on behalf of free trade agreements promoted by the Bush Administration. But when he became a senator, he saw firsthand the devastating impact that poorly-enforced trade laws had on his state, especially in regards to China’s dumping of steel into the US market. He doggedly pushed to change the laws to make it easier for U.S. manufacturers to get relief before they went out of business. For that change in position, he has garnered the support of many union members.
4) He found solutions to problems that face his constituents: the opioid crisis has proved to be devastating to rural communities in Ohio and across the country. Portman and his colleague Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire, came up with a plan to provide help and resources to treat those who are addicted to pain killers and heroin. And then he pushed Senate leaders and, then, House leaders to pass his plan and send it to the president for his signature. It became one of the most notable accomplishments of this session of Congress.
5) He avoided the Trump vortex: I am a pretty close observer of the political scene and I don’t know what Rob Portman’s position on Donald Trump really is. That’s how it should be. Portman is running his own campaign, separate from the controversial Republican nominee. He is running ahead of Trump in the Ohio polls and, while he won’t be completely immune from a Trump free-fall, should it happen in November, he is far better positioned than many of his colleagues.