LIMA — Democrats and Republicans from across the country will be closely monitoring the U.S. Senate race between incumbent U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and former Ohio Gov.Ted Strickland, as the two face off in an election that could help determine which party controls the Senate.
Portman, R-Ohio, holds a substantial lead over his Democrat challenger Strickland according to average polling data from realclearpolitics.com. As of Saturday afternoon, Portman was polling at 51.6 percent, compared to Strickland’s 35.8 percent. The remaining 12.6 percent of voters are split among Green Party candidate Joseph DeMare, as well as independent candidates Thomas William Connors and Scott Rupert.
Strickland, who served as Ohio’s governor from 2007 to 2011, and Portman, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, faced off in three debates throughout the last few months.
During the final debate on Thursday, Portman touted his bipartisan record and his work to end the heroin epidemic, citing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act he championed. Strickland questioned his opponent’s bipartisan record, along with his support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Portman has rescinded his support of Trump.
In an interview with The Lima News, Strickland said his top priority is national security. He advocated for a “well-trained, well-equipped” military. His second priority, he said, is “creating opportunity for our citizens.”
“That includes making sure people have a chance to pursue their dreams,” Strickland said.
To ensure Ohioans have opportunity, Strickland proposed a $12 minimum wage that would be phased in over time, as well as free tuition for community college students and a debt refinancing structure for graduates.
“The state needs to play a role in college education,” he said.
Portman told The Lima News that there is no such thing as “free education.”
“We all pay for it,” Portman said.
Though Strickland claimed his opponent was against refinancing for student loan debt, Portman said he has supported the Repay Act, which would allow graduates to consolidate and refinance their debt.
When asked why he would choose to run for public office at age 75, Strickland said he has been troubled by the way the middle class has been treated during the last 30 or more years.
“Wealth has been created, but it hasn’t been shared in a way that really benefits average workers,” he said, adding that the wealth gap is larger than it has been since the 1920s. “We need a thriving middle class because the middle class carries the largest part of the burden for everybody else.
“If the middle class is not doing well in our country, our economy is not doing well.”
Portman said his top priorities are creating more jobs, cutting down on regulation, reforming the tax code, making health care more affordable and combating terrorism on a domestic and international level. Portman said he and his fellow Republicans are the ones who can address these issues.
“We’re a party of reform, and making a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “I hope we can break through the partisan gridlock.”
Strickland said Portman pretends to be bipartisan, even calling him “the great pretender” in Thursday’s debate. Portman refuted this notion, saying he has sponsored 45 bipartisan bills that were signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The race between Portman and Strickland is one of 34 elections in the U.S. Senate for 2016. Republicans hold 24 of the 34 seats up for re-election, the majority of which are incumbents. To regain control of the Senate, Democrats would need to gain five seats.
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima