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Published: Saturday, 10/2/2010

Candidates pack hefty political portfolios

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Ohio's U.S. Senate race pits two of Ohio's more experienced politicians against each other, one with his roots in state government, the other with a long political career in Washington.

Lee Fisher, the lieutenant governor, and Rob Portman, a former congressman, are running in the Nov. 2 election to replace Republican Sen. George Voinovich, who opted not to run again.

The two candidates have sought to label each other in the most politically damaging way possible - Mr. Portman as the tool of Wall Street and Mr. Fisher as the failed "jobs czar."

Mr. Fisher had been a state representative and senator from Cleveland as well as state attorney general for one term (1991-1995).

After losing his re-election effort to Republican Betty Montgomery in 1994, Mr. Fisher became executive director of the Center for Families and Children, a nonprofit human services organization in Cleveland.

He returned to politics with an unsuccessful run for governor against Republican Bob Taft in 1998, and was successful in 2006 as the running mate of Democratic candidate for governor Ted Strickland.

Mr. Portman started out the race an unknown to Ohioans outside the Cincinnati area, but has become more familiar during a campaign that has relied heavily on television ads, campaigning in parades and festivals, Twitter and Facebook, and touring state businesses in his recreational vehicle.

Mr. Portman practiced law in Washington and Cincinnati before going to work for President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1991.

One of Mr. Portman's jobs was director of the White House lobbying office on Capitol Hill.

He was elected in 1993 from the reliably Republican 2nd District seat that stretches along the Ohio river east from Cincinnati, and was re-elected six times until resigning in 2005.

He stayed in Washington two years to serve first as U.S. trade representative for President George W. Bush and then as President Bush's budget director.

Mr. Fisher has fixed on Mr. Portman's Washington resume to label him "the ultimate insider," and has cast himself as the candidate of the underdog.

His campaign cited reports that Mr. Portman was the second-highest recipient of contributions from the financial industry, at $394,096, and that Mr. Portman raised $120,000 in a fund-raiser hosted at the New York home of wealthy hedge fund manager Paul Singer.

"When people find out about that, and they're finding out more and more every day, they're actually turned off by the fact that this is a guy who's going to actually go to D.C. and stand up for the very people who caused this economic recession," Mr. Fisher said.

Despite only one brief television commercial - to Mr. Port-man's seven - and few political appearances in northwest Ohio, Mr. Fisher said he's confident he can "defy the odds," and win.

As of June 30, Mr. Fisher had raised $5 million for the current election, less than half the $12.6 million raised by Mr. Portman.

Worse than that for Mr. Fisher, he had only $1.2 million left in his campaign account as of June 30, compared with Mr. Portman's $8.8 million in campaign cash.

Holly Shulman, spokesman for the Fisher campaign, said that his campaign is closing the polling gap and getting more money from contributors.

The Quinnipiac University poll released Sept. 18 showed Mr. Portman leading by 20 points. The gap was down to 11 points in a poll by the New York Times/CBS News Sept. 29.

Joe Rugola, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said the Democratic Party and Ohio unions have get-out-the-vote programs to close the gap.

"Rob Portman's been a consistent advocate on behalf of Wall Street, and major corporations and Lee Fisher's been an advocate for the middle class and working families," Mr. Rugola said. "We're confident once that distinction gets drawn clearly in the mind of voters that Mr. Fisher can be very competitive in this Senate race."

The Portman campaign says the current leadership in Washington have given the country a costly health-care plan and a stimulus bill that didn't revive the economy. He's also attacked the proposed cap-and-trade environmental bill as a job-killer because it would reduce energy made by burning coal.

"Rob Portman has presented a comprehensive jobs plan and he is presenting a better way for Ohio's economy to get back on track to get Ohio working again," Portman spokesman Jessica Towhey said.

"Small business and manufacturers need to feel that government is on their side instead of government working against them," she said.

Mr. Portman's ads have focused relentlessly on Mr. Fisher's self-identification as the state's lead person in job creation for the first two years of the administration during a time when jobs have disappeared since 2006.

"Over the last four years Ohio's lost 400,000 jobs and Lieutenant Governor Fisher was asleep at the switch as the state's failed jobs czar," Ms. Towhey said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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