In another year, you could easily contrast the two candidates for the U.S. Senate as you’d compare any Democrat and Republican: One emphasizes income inequality; the other creating opportunities to grow jobs.
But this is no ordinary year.
More special reports in this series
The presence on the November ballot of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee has cast a shadow over other contests as well, including the Senate race, once considered one of the hottest in the United States.
While Republican Sen. Rob Portman has endorsed Trump, he’s mostly kept his distance from him and has yet to appear on the same stage with the New York billionaire.
For his part, Democrat Ted Strickland has tried to tie Portman to Trump and making the claim that both would be harmful to the Ohio economy.
Last week, the Strickland campaign received some bad news when Senate Democrats withdrew nearly $200,000 in TV commercials on his behalf, sending the message that he may have fallen too far behind. A conservative organization aligned with the Koch brothers then said it would pull its ads against Strickland because of Portman’s lead in the race.
It’s easy to get distracted in a year like this one, but with so much at stake we feel Ohioans should have at their fingertips information about where each candidate stands — from their positions on taxes and ISIS to hot-button social issues like guns, gay rights and abortion.
Beginning today and continuing through Tuesday, we will examine key issues in the Senate race with an eye toward making sure voters have what they need to make an informed choice.
Today’s topic: economic issues.
Traditional GOP stances on trade have been thrown into tumult by Trump, who regularly rails against some of the very trade agreements that Portman, a former U.S. Trade Representative, helped negotiate.
Politicians from both parties also recognize that wages have remained stagnant, and that good jobs are harder to come by.
“I think this is first time I’ve seen that the candidates of both parties accept the fact that wages have been stagnant for some time,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the nonprofit left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “The question should be, ‘who’s going to do something about it and what do they plan to do?’”
In a recent TV ad, Portman talks about “fighting every day to level the playing field for Ohio workers, standing up to my own party on trade and fighting back against China when they threaten Ohio jobs.”
It’s an effort to fight the notion that Portman, who backed the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, is a supporter of trade agreements even if they cost Ohio jobs.
In his ads, Strickland emphasizes Portman’s trade background, calling him the “best senator China’s ever had.”
Portman emphasizes enforcing current trade deals as well as his work to fight the dumping of foreign products on U.S. markets. It’s a position that seems to be influenced by Trump, who has won over some voters with his arguments that Americans are too often on the losing end of trade agreements.
Portman spokeswoman Michawn Rich insists there’s common ground between the senator from Ohio and the Republican presidential nominee.
“Rob and Donald Trump agree that we need to dramatically increase exports while cracking down on unfair imports,” she said.
Portman argues that trade, when employed effectively, sends U.S. products into new markets. He supported giving the president the authority to negotiate trade deals but opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership as currently written.
Strickland opposed trade deals such as NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade Act and voted against granting China permanent favored trade status in 2000.
Strickland, though, opened Ohio’s third trade office in China when he was governor and awarded a $4 million taxpayer funded loan to Xunlight Corp., even though the company was building an assembly plant in China.
Strickland’s spokesmen have said the loan was to build a plant in Ohio, not China, and the China trade office was aimed at increasing exports for Ohio products.
Portman’s campaign has sharply criticized Strickland’s record as Ohio governor, stating that the state lost more than 350,000 jobs, bled its rainy-day fund down to nothing and ranked 48th in job creation.
But Strickland — whose time in office overlapped with the Great Recession — argues that he paved the way for the economic recovery that started after Ohio Gov. John Kasich took office. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Ohio had the fifth fastest growing state economy in the country when Strickland left office at the end of 2010.
in his jobs plan, Strickland focuses on wage regulations and trade policy reform, as well as investing in infrastructure to create jobs.
Portman was the lead author of Senate Republican plan that aimed to create jobs, ease the regulatory burden, reform the tax code and embrace an “all of the above” energy plan. That plan would also repeal and replace Obamacare.
Strickland supports raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour – up from the current $7.25 an hour.
But he has supported increasing it to as high as $15 an hour for home health care workers. While both were in Congress in 2000, Strickland and Portman were on opposite sides of a bill that would increase the minimum wage by $1 over two years. Strickland voted in favor while Portman was opposed.
As governor, Strickland refused to exempt thousands of workers including home health care aides from Ohio’s minimum wage – a move made in defiance of a Republican General Assembly bill.
Portman opposed an increase to $10.10 an hour in April 2014, saying it would keep employers from creating jobs and discourage companies from hiring younger workers. But a spokeswoman said Portman now supports raising the minimum wage – she didn’t say by how much — and indexing it to inflation.
Portman has consistently argued in support of simplifying and reforming the tax code, including lowering the corporate and individual tax rates. He supports making the small business investment tax credit permanent and supports reducing taxes on capital gains and dividends.
Strickland proposes a $1,000 middle class tax break for joint filers making up to $150,000 a year. He’d provide a tax break of $500 for individual filers making up to $75,000 a year.
“Ted Strickland’s tax rebate is nothing more than an election year give-away to voters,” said Rich, adding that it “would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt. “
Portman co-sponsored a bill that would consolidate student loan repayment programs and give borrowers a choice of a 10-year fixed repayment or income driven repayment.
He also supported a 2013 bill that kept student loan rates from doubling and sponsored a bill to expand 529 savings plans, which allow parents to use tax-free savings accounts to pay for college.
Strickland argues that the federal government should make college “debt free,” and said he will fight to expand and protect Pell Grants and the Perkins Loan program. He said he would also fight to allow students to refinance their loans to get a lower interest rate.
About this series
We want to help you make an informed choice on election day and give you information on where the candidates stand on the issues that matter most to you. Beginning today and continuing through Tuesday, we are examining the candidates’ positions in the U.S. Senate race in Ohio. Today’s story is on the economy. On Monday we will examine foreign policy and the threat of terrorism. On Tuesday we will hit the hot-button issues such as guns, gay rights and abortion.