Republican Rob Portman, a rising GOP star who served as former President George W. Bush's budget chief and trade representative, easily defeated Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in the U.S. Senate race in the Buckeye State Tuesday as voters brushed aside Democratic attempts to blame Bush-era policies for the state's economic plight.
Portman, who represented a Cincinnati-based congressional district from 1993 to 2005, was declared the winner by the Associated Press shortly after the polls closed in Ohio. He will succeed Republican Sen. George Voinovich, who is retiring. Fisher, a well known name in Democratic circles, was Ohio attorney general and a state senator before being elected lieutenant governor in 2006 -- and then catching the full brunt of the recession two years later. Portman hammered him for job losses in the state and outspent him by an estimated 7-1 margin, assuring that Fisher never got much traction in the race
The 54-year-old Portman, a genial conservative far removed from the Palin wing of the party, is now seen as a fast-emerging national figure in Republican politics. "He will be on everyone's short list for vice president" in 2012, former Ohio Republican Chairman Robert T. Bennett told the Columbus Dispatch
over the weekend.
For Fisher, outspent and running in a difficult year for his party, the defeat marks his third loss in 16 years in a statewide contest. He lost the governor's race to Bob Taft in 1998 after being defeated in a bid for reelection as attorney general four years earlier. Before even taking on the well-financed Portman, Fisher had to fend off a Democratic primary challenge
from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. He won, but was forced to dip deep into his campaign treasury for some $3 million to put her away.
In the Senate campaign, each candidate blamed the other for the state of the economy. But with Democrats in charge in Washington and Columbus, the argument went Portman's way. Fisher, a lawyer who lives in Shaker Heights in suburban Cleveland, acknowledged voter anger, but accused his rival of currying favor with big banks, corporations and other special interests. As the campaign wound down, he insisted he was behind because of his opponent's "money," not his own "message." Portman got more help from the Karl Rove-supported American Crossroads, an independent-but-GOP-leaning group that threw about $750,000 into pro-Portman TV ads and also into commercials faulting Fisher for job losses in the state.
Portman highlighted Fisher's support of the federal stimulus bill and health care law, repeatedly lumping the Democrat in with the "Pelosi-Reid-Obama agenda." He said 397,000 jobs had been lost in Ohio on the watch of Fisher and Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
Fisher will have to reassess his political future. Portman heads back up to Capitol Hill with the task of working with Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, on efforts to help their hurting state shake a 10 percent unemployment rate and get on the road to economic recovery.
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