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|The GOP's smear Ted Strickland effort is working but Rob Portman's campaign is no profile in courage: Brent Larkin|
Sen. Rob Portman and his allies are smashing every Ohio campaign spending record imaginable. Before it's over, expect about $70 million to be spent on his behalf as he seeks re-election in Ohio, writes Brent Larkin. CLEVELAND -- Republicans knew all long the best way to beat Ted Strickland was to destroy his reputation. So, early on, they set out to end the former Democratic governor's long career in public life by waging a campaign unlike anything Ohio has ever seen. Way back in February 2015, I wrote of Republican Sen. Rob Portman's re-election strategy: "By the time Portman is done spending (insert a number here north of $25 million), even some Democrats will be convinced Strickland was the most notorious job-killer in Ohio history." 2015: Strickland's Senate candidacy an expression of Ohio Democrats' weakness: Brent Larkin Mission accomplished - almost. And as for that $25 million, it's now nearly twice as much. So no one should be even a bit surprised all that money was used to finance an efficient, calculated and very public political execution. At times, it's been almost painful to watch. Every day, the television airways are flooded with ads suggesting Ohio lost so many jobs on Strickland's watch as governor that he almost singlehandedly wrecked the state. It's all an exaggeration, of course, albeit one largely within the boundaries of what now qualifies as fair political commentary. Portman and his allies are smashing every Ohio campaign spending record imaginable. Before it's over, expect about $70 million to be spent on his behalf. A huge portion of it is coming from some genuinely awful human beings, people like the Koch brothers and the folks who run the gun lobby. June: Conservative group drops another $2.7M on anti-Ted Strickland TV ad But it's working. Strickland's campaign is on life support. He's trailing Portman by high single digits. His fundraising in Ohio has been underwhelming for more than a year. Read more: Jeremy Pelzer analysis of why Strickland is so behind in Senate race And not about to waste money on a Senate race they're unlikely to win, Washington Democrats are pulling essential advertising money out of Ohio and moving it to other states. But perhaps the most telltale sign of all is that Charles and David Koch, the vile billionaire brothers determined to wreck the environment by wiping out any and all government regulation of their polluting industries, have reportedly closed their checkbook and moved on. Aug. 30: Koch brothers cancel $2.1M worth of Ohio Senate ads Yet before they left, the shadowy groups the Koch brothers fund had poured nearly $7 million into the smear Strickland effort. If Portman wins, Charles and David Koch will demand his support on every single matter that impacts their evil empire. We'll be watching. Like Strickland, Portman is a genuinely decent guy. He's smart, works hard for and cares about Ohio. But it's hard to shed the notion Portman left his conscience at home in this race. Watching him struggle to have it both ways -- supporting Donald Trump while running to the other end of the state whenever Trump visits Ohio -- is at times pathetic. No one has done more to promote Portman's career in public service than the Bush family, notably former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Yet after all the two Bush presidents did -- and continue to do -- for him, Portman now supports for president a man who has regularly demeaned that family in the crudest terms imaginable. Some things in life should be more important than winning an election. Strickland's best remaining hope is for another crazed Trump comment that brings down dozens of Republicans now deemed safe -- preferably something the emotionally unstable candidate utters at one of those frenzied rallies teeming with white males who wake up each morning angry over their lot in life. Far more likely is an Election Day verdict that, at age 75, Strickland ran one race too many. Rob Portman, Ted Strickland get glowing health reports So, who's to blame for yet another monumental Democratic debacle in Ohio? As one longtime political insider aptly put it, "The ship of fools is quite large." At the top of any list would be those who lobbied for Strickland to run: Washington Democratic power brokers; Bill and Hillary Clinton; the Ohio Democratic Party; and - as always - the public-sector labor unions, in this case, most notably, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. With disaster looming, Democrats are doing what they usually do: marshaling their excuses. "No one short of John Glenn or LeBron James could take $45 million of attack ads and be ahead," said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. "Is Ohio for sale? That's what this race is all about." He's half right. Ohio is for sale. But the race is also about the Democratic Party's inexplicable decision to ram an early Strickland endorsement down the throats of rank-and-file Democrats -- infuriating both young voters and Democrats offended by Strickland's lifelong opposition to common-sense gun laws. Yes, Strickland crushed 31-year-old Cincinnati Councilman PG Sittenfeld in the party primary. But the former governor's record was low-hanging fruit for the Portman campaign. Attacking Sittenfeld would have proven more difficult, and riskier. Instead of looking to the future, Democrats went with a candidate who would be the oldest true freshman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. In a year when voters are desperate for change, the people who control the state party went the wrong way. Some things never change. Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer's editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009. To reach Brent Larkin: [email protected]
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