A year ago, the Ohio race between Rob Portman and Ted Strickland was shaping up to be the marquee Senate campaign in the country, a contest between two popular politicians in a perennial swing state. In Portman, Republicans had a rising star who had become an immediate power player during his first term in the Senate and was one of Mitt Romney’s running mate runners-up in 2012. To challenge him, Democrats had landed their prized recruit: former Governor Ted Strickland, perhaps the Buckeye State’s best-known Democrat after John Glenn.
Ohio was already going to be a crucial presidential battleground in 2016. With the Portman-Strickland battle, it could have the added significance of determining control of the Senate.
Yet two months before Election Day, the vaunted match-up is looking more like a dud. Portman is ahead comfortably in the polls after outside groups spent millions blanketing the state in ads hammering Strickland. Some Republicans are already banking an early victory, and national Democrats are redirecting money to other Senate races in the first signs they might abandon the under-funded Strickland altogether.
“It’s over,” proclaimed Mark Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist in Ohio. Portman’s lead in the RealClearPolitics average is now 7.5 percentage points after a string of strong surveys in August. Weaver, who worked for Portman’s first race in 2010 but is not involved with the current campaign, argued that margin was enough to protect him against the drag of a Hillary Clinton victory over Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. “If Hillary wins Ohio big, it will narrow the margin of Rob’s victory, but it will not overturn the race,” he told me.