Gonzales

Rating Change in Ohio Senate Race

Rob Portman is bucking the national trend working against the GOP

Sen. Rob Portman and his wife Jane Portman walk together in the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary's Feast of the Assumption procession in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood on Aug. 15. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, there hasn’t been a lot of good news for Republicans, but one of their senators is providing a glimmer of hope.

It was no surprise that Ohio started the cycle as a focal point as a perennial presidential swing state with a competitive Senate race. A close re-election contest for GOP Sen. Rob Portman looked inevitable, particularly after Democrats recruited former Gov. Ted Strickland to run. And Trump’s subsequent victory in the presidential primaries and overall weakness as a candidate threatened to drag down GOP incumbents across the country.

But the Ohio race has not played out as expected.

[Roll Call's 2016 Election Guide: Senate]

Strickland, who has a national profile and close ties to the Clinton family, failed to capitalize on his fundraising potential and some Democrats believe he was too slow in responding to GOP attacks on the number of jobs lost in the state during his tenure as governor.

Portman and Republicans exerted their financial advantage and invested early in a ground game that has put the senator in a better position than when he started the cycle. And Portman also deftly handled Trump coming into Ohio for the Republican National Convention in July by being proactive with his own events for the swarm of reporters to cover. 

The race is not over, but it’s not headed in the right direction for Democrats. We’re changing The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rating from Tilts Republican to Leans Republican

Strickland is now caught in a vicious cycle: As the polling gets worse and the narrative builds against his chances in the race, Democratic-friendly groups are scaling back or canceling television advertising campaigns on his behalf. The lack of ads will hurt his opportunity to change the dynamic of the race, which is necessary to get groups to invest money back into the state.

[Democratic Super PAC Delaying Strickland Ads]

Portman has a 7.5-point advantage in the polls, according to the latest average from RealClearPolitics. It’s still possible for Strickland to win if Trump causes the Republican Party to collapse in November, but Portman is in increasingly good shape. Hillary Clinton has a 3-point edge over Trump in Ohio, according to the RCP average.

In spite of its swing-state status, Ohio actually hasn’t had a squeaker of a Senate race in nearly 40 years. The 2012 contest between Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel was competitive and expensive, but Brown prevailed by 6 points. That was the closest Ohio Senate race since Democrat Howard Metzenbaum defeated Republican Sen. Robert A. Taft Jr. by 3 points in 1976, in a rematch of their 1970 race.

Even without Ohio, Democrats are well-positioned to win control of the Senate in November by gaining four seats (assuming they also win the White House).

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