US Senate race in Ohio ratchets up with primaries behind

CINCINNATI (AP) – Both sides turned up the heat Wednesday in Ohio in a closely watched U.S. Senate match-up that is likely to be impacted by the presidential race.

Ted Strickland, the Democratic governor ousted by the GOP’s John Kasich, handily won his three-way primary Tuesday to take on Republican Sen. Rob Portman, one of the incumbents that Democrats think they have a shot at unseating in their effort to regain a Senate majority. Polls in the presidential swing state show Strickland and Portman could be neck-and-neck in the fall.

Portman’s campaign said Strickland is hoping that Hillary Clinton will carry him in Ohio and that he is trying to hide from “a terrible record.”

Strickland said Portman’s opposition to filling the Supreme Court vacancy during an election year was “disgraceful.” Portman reasserted his stance Wednesday as President Barack Obama was nominating appellate court judge Merrick Garland.

Strickland was active in Clinton’s 2008 campaign in a state where she has now twice won presidential primaries and that her husband Bill carried twice in general elections. Kasich’s primary victory kept his own presidential hopes alive, and his high approval ratings in Ohio add support to the Portman campaign’s attacks on “Retread Ted” for his term as governor, when the state’s economy was battered by the national recession.

“If Kasich in on the GOP ticket, I think that’s going to help Portman a great deal,” said Bryan Marshall, a Miami University political scientist. “If Trump’s on there, that puts Portman in a real difficult position, as it does candidates in a lot of other places.”

The state’s GOP leadership has voiced concerns about what a Donald Trump-led ticket might do in Ohio. Portman, who easily won his primary, said he’s got the campaign in place to win regardless of the presidential nominee.

“This is going to be a campaign that focuses on winning, no matter who is at the top of the ticket,” Portman told reporters.

Marshall said Portman’s position on the Supreme Court vacancy could “come back to haunt” him.

Democrats dubbed him “Beltway Rob,” a Washington insider serving special interests.

“This campaign will offer a simple choice: Rob Portman is looking out for what’s best for Washington, while I stand up for the working people of Ohio,” Strickland said in a statement.

The Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners free-market super PAC launched a $2 million TV and digital ad buy in Ohio blaming Strickland for job losses such as that of a former DHL Express employee, featured in an ad, who lost his job when the delivery company moved a hub out of Wilmington, Ohio. Strickland’s campaign called the ad “misleading” and criticized “wealthy, shadowy special interests.”

Meanwhile, former Speaker John Boehner sent a message of congratulations to the heir-apparent in the western Ohio U.S. House seat he left vacant, saying voters chose someone “who can be counted on to continue the fight for smaller, less costly, government.”

Army veteran and businessman Warren Davidson had support from conservative advocacy groups and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and emerged from a 15-candidate Republican field to win Tuesday’s dual primary, with the only two incumbent legislators in the race running second and third in the heavily Republican 8th District. Davidson, 46, will face a Democrat and a Green Party candidate in a special election June 7 to complete Boehner’s term and again in November for the next Congress.

By Dan Sewell

Associated Press