COLUMBUS — Republican Rob Portman, a former Ohio congressman and a veteran of former President George W. Bush’s White House, easily won the state’s open U.S. Senate seat Tuesday, keeping it in Republican hands.
Portman brushed aside criticism over his close ties to Bush and capitalized on the state’s angst over its depressing economy, coasting to a victory over Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in a race that that some Democrats gave up on months ago.
Democrats had hoped that the retirement of two-term Republican Sen. George Voinovich would give them one of their best chances of gaining a GOP seat. But Fisher’s campaign sputtered following the state’s Democratic primary and couldn’t match Portman campaign’s fundraising machine.
Portman will bring an impressive resume to Washington that includes stints as Bush’s budget director and trade ambassador.
Not well-known outside his home base of Cincinnati, Portman spent the first half of his campaign traveling to every county in the state in a camper while amassing a huge fundraising advantage.
Portman, 54, enlisted the likes of Bush fundraising guru Mercer Reynolds and billionaire financier Carl Lindner to help him bring in $15 million through September and swamp Fisher with television and radio ads.
Fisher, 59, faced a costly Democratic primary and ran only one statewide television ad against Portman in the weeks leading up to the start of early voting in Ohio.
Most polls showed Portman with a comfortable lead in the final two months of the campaign.
Sensing trouble, donors and Democrats ended up focusing their attention on closer races, most notably Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s re-election bid.
Portman, a fiscal conservative, already has a long resume in Washington.
He worked as an aide to President George H.W. Bush before serving in Congress from 1993-2005. He then went to work as White House budget chief and later as a trade representative for George W. Bush.
Fisher has had a long track record as an Ohio lawmaker. But his only statewide victory came 20 years ago in an attorney general’s race decided by 1,234 votes.