By Ralph Z. Hallow, The Washington Times
Despite a favorable electoral climate for Republicans and former Rep. Rob Portman’s huge funding advantage over his Democratic opponent in the contest for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat, polls show the race in a dead heat.
Conservatives and “tea party” activists say Mr. Portman’s record as a moderate Republican has failed to fire up not only core GOP voters but also what may prove just as important to victory – the “tea party” movement. Complicating the picture is the failure of that movement to meet expectations in some of the May 4 Ohio GOP primary elections.
Mr. Portman’s resume, though extensive, has elements that raise red flags for conservatives – his service in the White House of President George H.W. Bush, who raised taxes and enlarged government; his election to six terms in the U.S. House, where he voted for the kind of spending that tea party supporters oppose; and his service as U.S. trade representative and then budget director in the big-spending George W. Bush administration.
“The tea party sees Portman as the establishment’s guy, so the GOP establishment now is saying, ‘Don’t dismiss him just because he’s a party guy,’ ” Ralph King, a coordinator for the Ohio Tea Party Patriots, told The Washington Times. “But that’s asking us to look past his record – giving money to the United Nations and opposing [Colorado Republican] Tom Tancredo’s try for a border measure in Congress.”
That resume may explain why Mr. Portman, 54, is in a close race with the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, 58, to fill the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. George V. Voinovich, offering Democrats one of their few chances nationwide to “pick up” a Senate seat.
Real Clear Politics lists the race as a tossup, and its average of the four latest polls in Ohio shows Mr. Fisher leading Mr. Portman by 0.7 percentage point. The Democrat also holds a modest lead in all three of the most recent polls, with Mr. Portman favored only in a Public Policy Polling survey taken March 20-21. None of the polls has given a big edge to either man, but they are surprising for an election year not particularly congenial to Democrats.
Mr. Fisher also shows less of a knack for attracting donors than does Mr. Portman.
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