Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) has made public what's been known privately for months: his desire to run for U.S. Senate. Fisher filed paperwork to form an exploratory committee for the race to replace retiring Sen. George Voinovich (R) late Monday. Fisher's demonstrated interest will likely clear the Democratic field of primary challengers given virtually assured support from Gov. Ted Strickland. Barring scandals before the primaries, the Senate race is now set between Fisher and ex-Rep. Rob Portman (R).
Fisher is two for two in statewide races: he won election as attorney general in 1990 but lost reelection in 1994, as well as losing the 1998 gubernatorial election before winning as with Strickland in 2006. This checkered record explains Fisher's low familiarity with the public: 55 percent of voters in a recent Quinnipiac poll said they don't know enough about him to judge his favorability.
Still, Fisher is better known among the public than Portman, who worked in the Bush White House as budget director and trade ambassador since 2005 and was a Cincinnati-area congressman before that. Fisher leads Portman 42 to 27 percent in the Quinnipiac survey.
In most political races, Democrats will strain to connect Republican candidates (especially newcomers) to George W. Bush's failures. In Ohio all they need to do is reference Portman's resume. On the other hand, Republicans will start asking "where's the beef" of Fisher and his party if the economy continues to sputter after Fisher has promised to "turnaround Ohio" as director of economic development and Democrats have controlled Congress and the White House.
However, Fisher is a polished speaker with a knack for explaining how the global and national economies affect Ohio - and what the Strickland administration has done to meet their challenges.
Since Portman's announcement last month, U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R) has leaned heavily toward running for attorney general, according to two Republican sources.