Picketing union members both thanked U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and promised to “hold his feet to the fire” as he arrived at a Republican Party event in South Toledo on Friday night.
Ohio’s junior senator got a full dose of Toledo on Friday, touring the General Motors Toledo Transmission Plant and the Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing base before prepping the GOP faithful for the coming election season during his keynote address to the Lucas County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner.
The senator pulled up in his gray Chevrolet pickup and spoke through the window to about 15 union members, who originally planned to protest Mr. Portman’s “no” vote several weeks ago that blocked extension of unemployment insurance.
The pickets’ tone changed after the announcement Thursday night that Republicans and Democrats in the Senate had agreed on a compromise bill to extend benefits for five months. The bill still needs a vote in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“He asked us if we knew he was one of the five Republicans who supported it,” said Mike Gillis, a spokesman for the state labor coalition that organized the protest. “We said we’re glad he’s come around, and he’s going to vote for the next one.”
Mr. Portman said the agreement accomplishes GOP goals, in that it is paid for and contains some reforms.
Inside the hall, Mr. Portman rallied the roughly 250 attending the $75-per-ticket annual banquet, blasting President Obama as “less the commander-in-chief and more the divider-in-chief.”
He predicted Republicans would take control of the Senate in the Nov. 4 election.
Alluding to the unpopular — with Republicans — Affordable Care Act, Mr. Portman joked that his new motto is, “Change the Senate majority, not your doctor.”
Ohio’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, also was in Toledo on Friday, promoting insurance sign-ups by the March 31 deadline for the health-care law.
Mr. Portman said he went into a “funk” after President Obama’s victory in 2012 but said he sees the party bouncing back.
Attendee Karen Baker Zepf of Ottawa Hills said Mr. Portman was a hit.
“My first reaction is ‘right on,’ because I think we need to hear someone unifying us [around] the qualities on which our country was established,” said Ms. Zepf, whose 14-year-old grandson, Harrison Ryan, was with her.
Mr. Portman, who is in his first Senate term, promoted the newly released Republican plan for economic growth, named “Jobs for America.”
Democrats say the plan is just campaign talking points, while Republicans say it’s the agenda they’ll try to implement if Republicans gain the Senate.
He had compliments for Jon Stainbrook, the Lucas County Republican Party chairman, who organized the party fund-raiser.
“Jon doesn’t mind rubbing people the wrong way in the other party and in the media and his own party sometimes, but he does what he thinks is right,” Mr. Portman said. He said Mr. Stainbrook is “broadening the party” in a county where Republicans are outnumbered.
Mr. Stainbrook said after the speech that Mr. Portman lived up to his stature as a national spokesman for the GOP.
“Rob Portman is the one on a national scale who keeps Obama in check and who verbalizes to the Republican masses what’s really going on instead of the liberal media diatribe that most people get,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Mr. Portman’s message, he said, was that “the Republican Party is alive.”
The senator said he was impressed by his tour of the GM factory, which he said is close to starting work on an eight-speed transmission.
“Isn’t it great that plant is back on its feet? We as Republicans have to stand up for manufacturing,” Mr. Portman said.
He said the 180th Fighter Wing at Toledo Express Airport brings $198 million a year to the local economy, and he wanted to assure the new base commander, Col. Craig Baker, that it has his support.
Also on hand were the two candidates for the GOP nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) in the 9th Congressional District: Robert Horrocks of Lakewood and Richard May of Cleveland.
Mr. May said the speech was “definitely geared” toward any tea party-leaners — “talking about the debt, talking about he economy. He avoided the social issues. For this audience it was the right message to send, it touched all the partisan points.”
Mr. Horrocks also said the speech hit the right notes.
“Everything he said was good policy for our country going forward. Definitely Obamacare needs to be reworked, repealed, and replaced,” he said.
Introduced to the party members was John Navarre, a commercial appraiser in the auditor’s office who is seeking the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Auditor Anita Lopez in the Nov. 4 election.