Barack Obama is now the United States’ 44th President, bringing to an emotional close a long saga I started blogging about in August 2007. But there is no time to pause, as the 2010 cycle has already heat up!
Yesterday, Public Policy Polling released the cycle’s first poll from Ohio. The surveys tested probable Republican nominee and former Rep. Rob Portman against three potential Democratic opponents:
- Portman leads 41% to 39% against Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher, 40% to 34% against Rep. Tim Ryan and 42% to 34% against Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.
None of these candidates is universally known - far from it - so we still have a very long way to go in this race. Their favorability ratings gives us an early idea of their electability, however. 28% have a favorable opinion of Portman, while 23% have an unfavorable one; the numbers are 40-32 for Fisher, 34-36 for Brunner and 26-27 for Ryan.
What is most fascinating is that Portman is the least well-known of the four candidates; yet he leads all the match-ups. This suggests that the former representative is boosted by his party label, a surprising finding since we have grown used to a generic Democrat distancing a generic Republican in a swing state like Ohio.
This is perhaps due to the fact that Portman is getting strong support from Republican voters (80% against Brunner and Fisher, 74% against Ryan) while the Democratic candidate only get between 59% and 68% of their party’s base. We should certainly expect this to improve over the course of the campaign.
All in all, the poll should dispel any notion that this open seat will fall in Democratic hands as easily as New Mexico and Virginia’s did in 2008; it should also dispel Republican hopes that Portman is a formidable candidate whose entry is enough to keep the seat in Republican hands. (He is stuck in the low 40s, which is certainly not a sign of invincibility.)
I delved into Rob Portman’s strengths and weakness a few days ago, so perhaps it is time to look into the Democratic contenders, as the party’s field remains very confused.
As I have already noted, Ohio’s primary is early enough that a competitive Democratic primary should not be disastrous to the party’s chances. And before worrying about the risks of a divisive battle, Democrats should focus on convincing one high-profile candidate to jump in the race.
Already, Attorney General Richard Cordray and Columbus Mayor Micheal Coleman have announced that they will not join the race. Judge Bill O’Neill, has said that he will run if Fisher does not (O’Neill was the Democratic nominee against GOP Rep. LaTourette in 2008; he lost by 19%.)
Ryan and Fisher attracted the most early buzz, but there is now plenty of speculation centering of Brunner. As Secretary of State, Brunner attracted a lot of attention during the presidential campaign by issuing a series of crucial rulings (this is Ohio, after all) that made it easier for voters to cast a ballot and that made it harder for watchers to challenge voters at the polls; this might have helped endear her to Democratic activists across the country.
The Buckeye State Blog reports that Brunner might have already met with Governor Ted Strickland to discuss the consequences of her jumping in the Senate race. (Democrats are particularly worried that her candidacy could endanger Democratic control of the Apportionment Board just as we are approaching redistricting.)
The larger problem is that Fisher, Burner and Ryan are all ambitious politicians, and all still have many years to spend in their current positions. This is a particularly complex decision for Ryan: He is still in his 30s and he is occupying a safe blue seat, so he has a lot of time to rise in the House leadership before considering a statewide run. Does he really want to endanger his career and potentially risk finding himself locked out of politics at such an early age?
It is somewhat unlikely to imagine all three bowing out of the race, but Ohio Democrats have enough of a bench to survive such a scenario; Reps. Zach Space, Betty Sutton and Marcy Kaptur are all mentioned as potential candidates.
(Note that Democrats faced a similar situation in 2006. Until then-Rep. Brown changed his mind and jumped in the Senate race at a relatively late date of the cycle, it looked like Democrats would have no strong candidate to run against vulnerable Senator Mike DeWine.)