The Ohio Senate Race:
A Strange Beginning

Oct. 16, 2015 — So far, the Ohio Senate campaign has begun as the new election cycle’s most peculiar contest. Sen. Rob Portman (R), seeking a second term, is leading in every aspect of the campaign but the polls. According to the last four surveys, former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) has a small edge over the Ohio senator, who was previously the Director of the US Office of Management and Budget, and a Cincinnati congressman.

Just last week the Harstad Strategic Group, polling for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, released early September data giving Strickland a 46-43 percent lead over Sen. Portman. Interestingly, Quinnipiac University, polling at the end of September and into early October, found exactly the same split: again Strickland topping Portman, 46-43 percent.

But, that’s not all. In Quinnipiac’s August version, they posted Strickland to a 44-41 percent advantage following their late June study that gave the former governor an even larger 46-40 percent margin. It was commonly viewed at the time that this first data finding Strickland with the edge was potentially an anomaly, but seeing other findings that supported the original result requires further examination before such a conclusion could be drawn. The last public poll to show Portman ahead came in early June from Public Policy Polling. In that survey the senator held a 43-41 percent lead.

The ballot test tilting toward Strickland makes little sense when we see that the same polls reported the incumbent’s personal favorability and job approval scores as being good. While the June Q-Poll found Strickland up six points, Portman scored a job approval of 49:28 percent and a personal rating of 43:21 percent.

In the August poll, the Portman ratios were similar: job approval, 45:26 percent, and personal favorability 42:19 percent. While leading this poll, Strickland actually posts a lesser favorability ratio, which adds to the incredulity of these ballot test survey results. According to the August data, the former governor scored a 44:32 percent favorability rating, a net 11 points worse than Portman.

Finally, in the most recent data, Portman’s job approval improved to 50:27 percent, yet he still surprisingly trailed Strickland on the ballot test.

Other aspects of the campaign, especially on the financial resource front, also point to Portman’s strength and a distrust of this polling string. In the quarter just ended, the senator raised an additional $2 million-plus, more than doubling Strickland’s released $971,000 figure. In terms of cash-on-hand, Portman has over $11 million in the bank as compared to just $1.5 million for his Democratic opponent.

These financial figures not only suggest that Portman is the stronger fundraiser. For a state the size of Ohio, and considering that Strickland is a former governor and this is an election cycle where the Democrats have a reasonable chance of regaining Senate control, he should be doing much better on the fundraising trail.

By contrast, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), in winning a second term in 2012 with a 51-46 percent margin of victory, raised and spent more than $21 million in his effort. The total was $3 million more than his Republican opponent, thus proving an Ohio Democrat can attract major campaign cash.

The conclusion is clear that those who comprise the local Ohio donor community clearly believe that Portman will win re-election, hence the disparity in campaign fundraising.

The underlying factors point to Portman leading this race; even though the ballot test polling portends that a Strickland upset is possible. Because Ohio is such a critical state in the presidential contest, the 2016 national election will greatly affect the Senate race. Still, several normally reliable polls notwithstanding, Sen. Portman appears to have a sound political foundation from which to launch his campaign effort for a second six-year term.

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