Portman, Fisher build bankrolls for 2010 Senate race

Portman, Fisher build bankrolls for 2010 Senate race

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Sunday, April 12, 2009 If money is the mother’s milk of campaigns, two candidates for U.S. Senate in 2010 already are thriving.

By Joe Hallett and Jonathan Riskind

Republican Rob Portman, a former congressman from Cincinnati, told The Dispatch on Friday that he has collected more than $1.7 million since his first fundraising event just five weeks ago. Including money left in his old congressional account, Portman said he has more than $3 million on hand for what is expected to be one of the nation’s premier Senate races.

“I am not interested in building a big campaign bureaucracy,” Portman said. “I am interested in having the funds available to get our message out.”

Portman’s haul overshadows the more than $1 million Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher boasted last week about raising in the first quarter of 2009 for an expected high-octane Democratic primary next May against Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

The 72-year-old incumbent, Republican Sen. George V. Voinovich, has announced that he will retire at the end of next year.

Candidates raising money for federal office must file campaign-finance reports with the Federal Elections Commission by Wednesday. The Portman, Fisher and Brunner campaigns haven’t released their full reports, and Brunner has declined to reveal how much she has raised.

“The early tests in the Senate race are fundraising markers,” said Joseph Rugola, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO and a Fisher supporter. “I would be somewhat surprised if Lee doesn’t emerge from this first round of fundraising with a huge advantage.”

Still, Fisher’s highest-ranking backer, Gov. Ted Strickland, has no illusions that the first round of fundraising reports will scare Brunner out of the race and spare the state Democratic Party a costly and divisive primary.

“The only way to avoid a primary would be for one of them to withdraw, and I don’t have any reason to believe that’s going to happen,” Strickland said.

More pressure is on Brunner to run for re-election, because the secretary of state is a member of the five-member State Apportionment Board, which will adopt new legislative boundaries after the 2010 census. The party controlling the board historically draws more districts favorable to its candidates.

“I’ve known Jennifer long enough to know that nobody’s going to tell her what to do,” Rugola said.

At the same time, Strickland is heading off Fisher’s option of changing his mind and running for re-election. The governor reiterated Thursday that he expects to name a new 2010 running mate “fairly soon.”

Brunner’s chances of winning the primary, Rugola said, are enhanced if she is the only female candidate in a field of men. State Rep. Tyrone K. Yates, D-Cincinnati, also has announced his Senate candidacy.

Even though Ohioans won’t elect a new senator to join Democrat Sherrod Brown for 18 months, posturing by both parties already is in high gear.

Democrats rarely miss an opportunity to exploit Portman’s closeness to the Bush family, particularly the unpopular 43rd president, George W. Bush. Portman left Congress in 2005 to serve as U.S. trade representative under Bush, later becoming the administration’s budget director. He also served in the administration of President George H.W. Bush as associate counsel to the president and director of legislative affairs.

“Rob Portman is a creature of the Bush family,” Brown said. “He got his start in the first Bush White House. He supported every Bush initiative as a congressman. He was the guy who was in charge of the budget as the deficit exploded and in charge of world trade as trade policy caused thousands of job layoffs in Ohio. I wouldn’t want to defend that.”

Portman said Ohioans don’t “have a whole lot of patience for rhetoric about pointing fingers one way or the other. They are going to be looking for people who want to go to Washington and get something done and help improve the lives of working families in Ohio who are under a lot of stress right now.”

Portman said that the deficit declined during his tenure as budget director, adding that he will stress his credentials as a fiscal conservative, but one who spent 12 years in Congress working with Democrats to pass major legislation.

“I look forward to working with both sides of the aisle and the (Obama) administration on issues Ohio families care about,” Portman said.

Amy Walter, editor of The Hotline, a nonpartisan national politics publication, said that no matter which Democrat emerges to take on Portman, a strategy focused on making him a Bush surrogate could be tricky. In 2010, she said, the statewide election is more likely to be a referendum on the Obama and Strickland administrations, not Bush’s.

Still, it is possible for Democrats to at least ask voters whether they “really want a Republican associated with an unpopular president,” Walter said.



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