Battle takes shape for Republican nod

Tom Ganley, left, is running for the Republican nomination for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat against Rob Portman.
Tom Ganley, left, is running for the Republican nomination for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat against Rob Portman.

COLUMBUS - It's not unusual for first-time, upstart candidates to take on so-called "career politicians."

But more often than not, they go home the night of the election claiming a moral victory after being trounced by a candidate who has the resources and party machine backing to keep his face on television.

Enter Tom Ganley, a virtual unknown in Ohio outside the Cleveland area who, as a wealthy owner of a huge auto dealership group, has the wherewithal to underwrite part of his campaign for the 2010 Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

That pits him against Rob Portman, the 53-year-old former Cincinnati-area congressman, budget director for President George W. Bush, and U.S. trade representative who wants to keep the seat held by retiring U.S. Sen. George Voinovich in

GOP hands.

"If you always do what you've always done, you're going to get the same result," Mr. Ganley said. "That's applicable to politics. I'm the different choice that's out there."

Mr. Portman raised $1.7 million in the second quarter of this year alone, leaving him with $4.3 million in the bank.

Mr. Ganley of Brecksville said he will raise and spend what is necessary in a race he figures will cost $5 million to $7 million.

"The filing deadline is Feb. 15. That's a lifetime in politics," Portman campaign manager Bob Paduchik said.

"Rob Portman is in the race to fight for Ohio families and every job. This will be a campaign about differences. We're confident that after voters hear how Rob will fight for them, this will be an easy decision."

Mr. Ganley's face is already on television in northeast Ohio through ads for his many dealerships. He's also the TV face for Crime Stoppers of Northern Ohio as he urges citizens to anonymously offer tips to solve felony crimes.

"You go to average citizens in northeast Ohio and they're going to be very familiar with the Ganley name," said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Center of Applied Politics.

"He still has the task of connecting Tom Ganley the person to the name, but because his name is widely known, it will be a lot easier than starting from scratch."

If nothing else, Mr. Ganley, 66, could force Mr. Portman to spend millions in a primary contest at a time when he might prefer to keep his powder dry while the Democratic candidates - Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner - bloody each other in their May primary.

A Quinnipiac Poll released this month had Mr. Portman up 33 percent to 10 percent over Mr. Ganley in the GOP primary with 55 percent of voters undecided. The same poll showed Ms. Brunner and Mr. Fisher beating both in tight general election match-ups.

At an unofficial meeting in June, state GOP committee members and county chairmen voted to break with normal protocol and endorse Mr. Portman sooner rather than later. The committee is expected to make it official in September.

"We look at the 2010 statewide elections as important to the future of our state and our country, so the committee didn't want to wait until May, 2010, for the party to get involved," Ohio Republican Party spokesman John McClelland said.

Mr. Ganley said the country needs a businessman to clean up the "fiscal catastrophe" the nation is facing.

"I don't need the job," he said. "The other three people who are running are running for a job. Our forefathers, when they founded this country, envisioned citizen legislators, people who left the farm, the blacksmith shop, and general store and went off to Washington to create laws for a relatively short period of time. Now we have career politicians. It's like a fiefdom."

The head of the largest automotive group in Ohio, with 32 dealerships, was burned by Chrysler's government-influenced decision to shed dealerships, so Mr. Ganley has a dim view of how government has handled the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler.

Contact Jim Provance at:

or 614-221-0496.