Ohio Senate race moves from "toss up," to "leans Republican," giving Rob Portman another boost

Posted at 8:40 AM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-09 08:42:07-04

One of the nation’s top political analysts moved the race for U.S. Senate in Ohio from “toss-up” category to “leans Republican” on Friday morning, meaning more bad news for former governor Ted Strickland who is struggling in his race to unseat GOP Sen. Rob Portman.

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report who studies senate races, believes that Portman is running the best senate campaign in the nation.

“Its hard to see anything that Ted Strickland can do at this point,” Duffy, who had nearly reached the decision earlier to move the race into “leans Republican,” said. 

Since lobbyists and political insiders rely on this newsletter for analysis, this change may mean that Strickland will have a tough time raising money, or getting Democratic PACs to buy television ads to help re-energize his campaign. This is just another blow for the Strickland campaign, which has been struggling to regain its footing after falling poll numbers and lost ad spending.

A week ago Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics came to the same conclusion and moved the Ohio Senate race from toss-up to leans Republican.

“I think the Democrats failed to appreciate that Strickland’s tenure as governor still resonated and what voters needed … was just to be reminded,” Duffy said.



Democrats had targeted this race as one where they had a chance to pick up a seat in hopes of gaining back the majority in the Senate. And early polls gave Strickland a slight edge.

But a slew of television ads attacking Strickland since May seem to have eroded his support in polls. The ads condemn the former governor for losing jobs and dipping into the state’s rainy day fund during the recession.

According to a tally by Democrats, Portman and GOP-backing outside groups have spent over $45 million against Strickland. This is more Republican spending against any Democratic candidate in the nation, including Hillary Clinton, according to The Atlantic.

“The only Democrat in Ohio at this point who would be within single digits (of Portman) after $43 million in ads spent against them is Ted Strickland,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, who was in Cincinnati on Thursday campaigning for Strickland.

Polls throughout the summer have shown the GOP senator from Terrace Park with an easy lead over Strickland. Portman now has a 7.5 point lead, according to a poll average by RealClearPolitics.

“The Portman campaign knew they had to drive up Strickland’s unfavorable rating, and they’ve done that,” Duffy said.

Recently the Strickland campaign was dealt another blow when Senate Democrats and the Senate Majority super PAC unexpectedly cut millions of dollars in ads reserved for him in the coming weeks.

The first time Democrats canceled an ad buy for Strickland, “I considered that a message,” Duffy said.

“But a week later to pull 3 million, that’s a statement,” Duffy said.

Duffy also believes that Strickland has been a weak campaigner.

“I don’t mean that in a demeaning way,” Duffy said. “He’s just not an aggressive, energetic campaigner.”

Strickland was in Cincinnati on Thursday for a Democratic unity event with Mayor John Cranley, former mayor Mark Mallory, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. They all took the podium in front of The Banks to thank Strickland for supporting the development even during the recession.

Local Democratic leaders in Cincinnati campaign for Ted Strickland's U.S. Senate bid on Sept. 8, 2016 at Smale Riverfront Park.

At The Banks event, Pepper said he was very confident that Strickland would win the race and that Democrats would carry Ohio for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

And Pepper said he isn’t giving up on the national Democratic money for Strickland just yet.

“They want to see some movement, and they will see some movement,” Pepper said. “He’s up on TV now and in the next 60 days you will see an enormous ground game.”

Strickland was just as enthusiastic at The Banks event, and he later spoke to University of Cincinnati College Democrats.

“We’re going to fight really hard; we’re going to win this county and we’re going to do better in some of the outer ring suburbs than people would even imagine. I really believe that,” Strickland said. “I’m going to win this election, I’m very confident.”