Portman Defeats Strickland in Ohio Senate Race

Associated Press called the race in favor of Portman immediately after polls closed

Rob Portman in 2012 / AP
Rob Portman in 2012 / AP

Incumbent Ohio Sen. Rob Portman defeated Democratic challenger Ted Strickland Tuesday, notching a win for Republicans in the battle over the U.S. Senate.

The Associated Press called the race in favor of Portman immediately after polls closed at 7:30 p.m. ET. Early returns showed Portman leading Strickland by double digits.

Portman has led Strickland in polls of the swing state's voters for months, as he has racked up a slew of endorsements from labor unions that have historically backed his competitor.

Strickland, a one-time governor and former congressman, was once seen as a strong contender for the Democrats to pick up a seat in the Senate. He led Portman in early polling and wielded support from Hillary Clinton and many of her largest bundlers.

As polls increasingly showed Portman building a lead in the race in recent months, Democratic groups began cancelling millions in advertisement reservations in the state.

Portman is expected to delivery a speech to supporters on Tuesday night.

The campaign released excerpts from Portman's victory speech ahead of his planned remarks in Columbus. He plans to emphasize the need for bipartisan work in Washington, according to the excerpts.

"I don't need to know who will be in the White House to tell you how I'm going to handle my responsibilities. And regardless of which Party controls the Senate, I'm going to treat my Senate colleagues–new or old, Democrat or Republican–on the assumption that they care about our country as much as I do," Portman will say.

"In different ways, and clearly in both parties, so many people feel that things have gone wrong for our great country. And whatever else might divide them, we can be absolutely certain of this: With a new president and a new Congress, Americans don’t want to just rewind the tape and live through more years of the same tired and self-defeating routine," Portman will say. "They expect better … we are capable of better … and with a fresh start–there will never be a better moment than now to stop the dysfunction in Washington and find that common ground."

Strickland released a statement Tuesday evening after calling Portman to congratulate him on the victory. "Tonight's results are not what I hoped for, but I am so grateful to those who have worked so hard to support our effort and for the opportunity to speak out over the course of this campaign on behalf of hardworking Ohioans," Strickland said.

According to a Real Clear Politics average of polls, Portman was leading Strickland by more than 18 percentage points ahead of voting on Tuesday.

Strickland's campaign has been at a considerable cash disadvantage throughout the general election campaign. Despite his largest fundraising haul in the third quarter, the latest totals showed Strickland for Senate with $1.4 million cash on hand, far less than Portman's $7.6 million.

Strickland has committed a series of gaffes throughout his campaign that his opponents have seized on, including telling an audience at an Ohio AFL-CIO event in August that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death came "at a good time" for labor unions. Strickland later apologized for the statement.

While Strickland was still the preferred candidate among most Ohio labor groups, Portman picked up endorsements from key unions, including the United Mine Workers of America and the 50,000-member Ohio Conference of Teamsters. Both unions, as well as others that backed Portman, previously supported Strickland and other Democrats.

Before advancing to the general contest against Portman, Strickland was locked in a bitter primary contest with young Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, a Cincinnati city councilman, who accused the former governor's campaign of misleading Ohio voters about when he changed his position on guns to support some gun-control measures.

Meanwhile, the presidential race in Ohio was much more contested going into Tuesday, with Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump virtually tied, according to several polls.

The Ohio Senate race was one of several that Democrats set their sites on to win control of the chamber this election cycle. Entering voting on Tuesday, Democrats were slightly favored by analysts to win control of the Senate.