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Published: Thursday, 1/15/2009

Portman starts U.S. Senate campaign, visits Packo's cafe

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Rob Portman, running for U.S. Senate, speaks at a campaign stop in Lebanon, Ohio. Rob Portman, running for U.S. Senate, speaks at a campaign stop in Lebanon, Ohio.
DAVID KOHL / AP Enlarge

After signing two hot dog buns for Tony Packo's Cafe in East Toledo, former Ohio congressman and White House appointee Rob Portman yesterday officially launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate election in 2010.

"My heart is in public service," Mr. Portman said yesterday at his Toledo announcement. "At a difficult time in our state and national economy I believe I can make a positive difference in the lives of people throughout Ohio."

Mr. Portman, 53, will seek the seat now held by Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio), who announced Monday he will not seek election to a third term. Toledo was Mr. Portman's second stop on a two-day tour that began at his family-owned restaurant near Cincinnati.

With his wife, Jane, and local Republicans standing with him, he said his focus would be on rebuilding Ohio's economy.

As is traditional for noted individuals passing through Toledo and stopping at Packo's, Mr. Portman signed two buns, saying he had coined a slogan for the campaign when he wrote, "Let's make Ohio great."

Mr. Portman lavished praise on Mr. Voinovich, whom he called his "mentor." But he said there was no coordination between Mr. Voinovich's announcement and his own quickly organized statewide effort to lay claim to the Republican nomination.

One local Democrat said Mr. Portman's twin roles as trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bush will require him to defend economic policies that many blame for the loss of more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs in the state.

"If you believe Ohio has been hurt by the economic policies of George Bush there could be no better person for Democrats to want to run for the U.S. Senate than Rob Portman," said Wade Kapszukiewicz, Democratic Lucas County Treasurer. "He helped literally craft George Bush's economic policy."

Mr. Portman said NAFTA has been wrongly blamed for the loss of jobs, and that Ohio's export economy has benefited from the opening of trade with Canada, especially. He blamed much of the loss of factory jobs on rising productivity and efficiency.

"NAFTA became a scapegoat in the politics of trade. It was very easy to point to NAFTA as the reason for all of our problems," Mr. Portman said. "If you look at the data there were millions of jobs created."

He also defended his role as budget manager in an administration that leaves office with a $1 trillion deficit forecast.

"The [deficit] was $162 billion when I left office and was only 1.2 percent of the economy. I'm proud of my record there. I was a budget hawk," Mr. Portman said.

Mr. Portman said some of the money from the remaining $350 billion economic stimulus bill should be spent to help struggling homeowners get new 30-year fixed mortgages.

"Until you do that it'll be tough to get the economy back on its feet because the housing market still hasn't hit rock bottom, and that really is what got us in the financial mess we're in," Mr. Portman said.

Also yesterday, the campaign released a long list of Republican endorsers, among them U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), who said Mr. Portman's "fresh perspective and vision is exactly what is needed to carry Ohio forward during these difficult times at home and abroad."

Mr. Portman was re-elected six times in southern Ohio's seven-county 2nd District before leaving Congress in 2005 to become the U.S. trade representative. He became President Bush's budget director the next year, then resigned and returned to Ohio in 2007.

Mr. Portman is a lawyer associated with the Cleveland law firm of Squire, Sanders, and Dempsey.

Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Zack Space are among potential Democratic candidates to replace Mr. Voinovich.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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