In the contest for U.S. senator from Ohio, The Blade recommends — with reservations — the election of Democrat LEE FISHER.
We base this judgment on our response to a fundamental question: Which Senate candidate would be most likely to vote and act during the next six years in a way that would enable Ohio and the nation to recover from the recession and make long-term progress?
Mr. Fisher has a long and productive record of service to this state, currently as lieutenant governor and previously as attorney general and a state lawmaker from the Cleveland area. As the state's economic deveopment director, he helped persuade HCR ManorCare Inc. to keep its headquarters — and 700 jobs — in Toledo when other states dangled relocation incentives. He also offers useful experience in the private and nonprofit sectors.
As a Senate candidate, Mr. Fisher generally expresses support for the major initiatives of the Obama Administration and current Congress: legislation aimed at broadening Americans' access to health care while preserving its quality and limiting its costs, economic stimulus that among other things has promoted the survival of the U.S. auto industry, and financial industry reform designed to curb the worst excesses of Wall Street.
These important achievements are worth building on, not weakening or repealing. Ohio voters can expect Mr. Fisher to do that as their senator. He also proposes useful ideas for giving small businesses incentives to create jobs and engage in advanced research and development.
Our reservations about Mr. Fisher's candidacy arise from the disorganized and uninspiring campaign he has run since he defeated Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in the Democratic Senate primary last May. He continues to trail Mr. Portman badly in opinion polls and fund-raising.
Mr. Fisher also has taken some disappointing issue stances. His opposition to “cap and trade” legislation, which would use market mechanisms to limit emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, appears designed largely to pander to Ohio's coal industry.
Worse is Mr. Fisher's effort to blame his Republican opponent, Rob Portman, for the loss of Ohio jobs, which he ties to Mr. Portman's work as U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush. Even as Mr. Fisher pays rhetorical respect to the job-creating value of trade, his stump statements too often have slid into foreign-bashing protectionism.
For his part, Mr. Portman's resume is appealing. Contrary to Mr. Fisher's efforts to discredit him as a creature of Washington, Mr. Portman offers valuable experience — and a reasonable record of bipartisanship — as President Bush's budget director and point man on trade, and before that as a congressman for 12 years from the Cincinnati area.
Despite his conservative credentials, Mr. Portman's record suggests he is neither a Tea Party zealot nor a Republican “party of no” automaton. That record suggests he is capable of representing Ohio with the same independent-mindedness often shown by Republican George Voinovich, who is retiring after 12 years in the Senate.
But that quality generally has not emerged in the candidate Ohioans have seen in this campaign. Instead, Mr. Portman has repudiated the signal legislative initiatives that his opponent supports.
He rejects climate-change proposals before Congress. He calls for extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, despite their effect on the federal deficit. He suggests that the nation can progress by resuming the failed economic policies that voters rejected two years ago, and that have hit northwest Ohio especially hard.
Mr. Portman's response to Ohio's massive job losses has been no more fair or realistic than Mr. Fisher's. Rather than emphasize his credible jobs platform, he has spent more campaign time blaming Lt. Gov. Fisher and Gov. Ted Strickland for the inevitable fallout in this state from a national and worldwide recession.
Ohioans could vote for Mr. Portman in the hope that he would revert to the bipartisan outlook he displayed as a House member. In this political climate, though, that optimism seems too much of a risk to act upon.
Also seeking the Senate seat are Constitution Party candidate Eric Deaton and Socialist Daniel LaBotz.
But The Blade supports LEE FISHER as the candidate who is best equipped to provide the forward-thinking leadership Ohio needs in a U.S. senator.