Democrats are having mixed success in painting Rob Portman, the Republican candidate, as the personification of the Bush years and policies. See the article by Carl Hulse here.
MAUMEE, Ohio — As he travels through Ohio, Rob Portman, the Republican Senate candidate, talks to economically stressed voters incessantly about jobs — how to keep existing ones and create new ones for workers who have seen opportunities vanish as businesses cut back or pulled out of this once-proud manufacturing hub.
Yet it is jobs held by Mr. Portman himself that have drawn attention from Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, his opponent, and other Democrats. First there was Mr. Portman’s stint as his party’s Congressional liaison to President George W. Bush. Then he served as the Bush administration’s trade representative. Next was his tenure as Mr. Bush’s budget director.
In a year when Democrats want to blunt Republican momentum by reminding voters that the hard economic times and sharp rise in federal spending started on Mr. Bush’s watch, Mr. Portman would appear to be at a distinct disadvantage. Short of Mr. Bush himself being on the ballot, it is hard to imagine another candidate who could so easily be painted as the personification of the Bush years and policies — or of the Democratic argument that a vote for a Republican in the midterm elections is a vote to turn Washington back over to the very people who got the country into its current problems.
But in a troubling sign for Democrats bent on Bush-bashing their way to victory, Mr. Portman, 54, appears to be doing just fine in a race Democrats initially saw as one of their best chances to take over a seat now held by a Republican. Mr. Portman and Mr. Fisher are running to replace Senator George V. Voinovich, who is retiring.
Recent polls have shown Mr. Portman, who is also a former House member, moving ahead of Mr. Fisher, who has undergone campaign staff turmoil. Mr. Portman held a huge financial advantage as of June 30, with $7 million more on hand than his rival. Among his contributors were the elder President George Bush and his wife, Barbara; former Vice President Dick Cheney; and numerous other Bush-era veterans who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars.
After a tour here of the Andersons Inc., a diversified grain, rail and retail company that is a mainstay in northwestern Ohio, Mr. Portman dismissed suggestions that his time in the Bush White House and his image as a trusted adviser to the former president would be a significant liability or that voters would even be concerned about the past.
“What the people in this plant want to know is what you are going to do for me going forward,” Mr. Portman said. “That is all they care about, and frankly that’s what voters care about.”
“The world has moved on,” he added. “Maybe the Democrats haven’t.”
Democrats are certainly not ready to move on in Mr. Portman’s case. They say they intend to make his record in the Bush administration a central element of the political argument against him.
“Rob Portman is the No. 1 George Bush look-alike in the country,” Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio and a Fisher supporter, said in an interview. “I just can’t believe the voters are going to choose the candidate who more than anybody else in the whole country represents what got us into this situation.”
And though Mr. Fisher does not now have the financial resources to go toe-to-toe, Democrats say they expect organized labor and the Ohio Democratic Party to help fill the gap as they push for Mr. Fisher as part of an aggressive coordinated effort in a closely divided state where Democrats are also seeking re-election for Gov. Ted Strickland and to hold on to a number of contested House seats.
With Ohio losing jobs overseas, Mr. Fisher said, Mr. Portman’s support of free-trade policies merits special scrutiny.
“While you may have some other Senate candidates who supported George Bush’s policies, there is only one who was actually the architect of those policies,” Mr. Fisher said. “There is factory after factory that is closed directly as a result of Congressman Portman’s trade policies.”
Mr. Portman is one of two Republican Senate candidates whom Democrats are trying to turn into pin-ups to remind voters of what happened when Republicans were in control of the White House and Congress. The other is Representative Roy Blunt, the former No. 2 House Republican, who is mounting a strong election bid in Missouri.
Illustrating the Democratic investment in revisiting the Bush years, a new cable television advertisement paid for by the Democratic National Committee includes a clip of George W. Bush and asks voters if they want to “go back to the same Republican policies that got us into this mess.”
Some analysts have questioned whether the anti-Bush theme is persuasive, and Mr. Portman said the Bush section of his résumé was rarely raised by Ohioans while he was out campaigning. He sees voters as more focused on the escalating deficit and the days ahead.
Sent to Congress in a special election in 1993, Mr. Portman quickly became a young Republican star on budget and tax issues and was well-liked on both sides of the aisle because of his affability and willingness to work with the opposition. Considering that he started out as an associate counsel in the White House of the elder President Bush, Mr. Portman was a natural fit with the younger Mr. Bush, and even served as a stand-in for Al Gore during presidential debate preparations in 2000.
He left Congress in 2005 to become the trade representative for the Bush White House. One year later, he took over as director of the Office of Management and Budget before returning to Ohio in 2007.
He readily concedes that Republicans let spending get away from them, though he defends his own record, saying he pushed for more disclosure of earmarks, helped cut the deficit while at the budget office and persuaded the president to threaten to veto swollen spending bills.
“After 9/11, people took their eye off spending,” Mr. Portman said. “Democrats got their social spending, and Republicans were more focused on national security and homeland security.”
He makes no apologies for his support of free trade, saying Ohio companies and farmers need overseas markets.
“That is the whole point of our proposals on trade: increasing exports and increasing enforcement so you have a level playing field so you can export more,” he said. “It is critical to Ohio’s economy.”
Though Mr. Portman is running well, Democrats say they still see a solid chance for victory. They say the fact that polls still show the race as competitive despite Mr. Portman’s money advantage and the overall favorable political atmosphere for Republicans is evidence that his ties to the Bush administration are hurting him.
“He is doing his best to run away from his own biography,” said Mr. Fisher, who accused Mr. Portman and other veteran Republicans of trying to gloss over their culpability in getting the nation off course.
“They are denying they were at the scene of the crime,” Mr. Fisher said. “I don’t think it will work.”