Strickland Criticizes Unions for Endorsing Portman

Ted Strickland
Ted Strickland / AP

Ohio Senate candidate Ted Strickland, a Democrat, on Thursday criticized the decision by a handful of labor unions to endorse incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R.), saying the move was a result of "Washington inside considerations."

Three unions, including one comprised of coal miners, have formally backed Portman for reelection despite having a history of supporting Strickland and other Democrats. The United Mine Workers of America endorsed Portman last month, and this week he also received formal backing from The Ohio Conference of Teamsters and the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. All three unions cheered Portman for his commitment to working families in the state.

Strickland, a one-time governor of Ohio, responded to the endorsements on Thursday, alleging that the unions endorsed Portman because of his support for legislation that would protect their pensions, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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"This is just a matter of Washington inside considerations–it has very little to do with anything that is going to happen in this election in Ohio," Strickland told reporters in Philadelphia on the final day of the Democratic National Convention there.

Strickland added that the unions’ endorsement decision "was made in Washington, D.C.–it wasn’t made in southern Ohio. I can assure you of that."

Portman has authored legislation, the Pension Accountability Act, that would prevent workers and retirees from receiving cuts to their pensions without having a say in the matter. Portman also supports legislation, due to be voted on by the Senate Committee on Finance this fall, that would protect mine worker pensions. Portman and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D.), who both sit on the committee, secured the commitment for a markup and vote on the Miner’s Protection Act last month.

"He’s in a position–if he were to choose–to actually inflict damage on the coal miners because he has some influence over their pensions," Strickland alleged. "The coal miners in Ohio are going to be voting for me."

Strickland’s campaign has long sought to characterize Portman as a Washington, D.C., insider who is out of step with Ohio voters. Strickland, however, has his own connections to Washington. Before launching his Senate campaign, Strickland headed the political advocacy arm of the D.C.-based Center for American Progress. His work at the liberal think tank, which advocates for green energy and anti-coal policies, has lead some to question his commitment to Ohio’s coal-country voters.

Strickland has also received financial backing from the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group that has lobbied against coal-fired power plants.

"Just this week Governor Strickland spoke at an event with the who’s who of coal enemies including [the League of Conservation Voters] and Sierra Club, which is an interesting strategy to court coal voters I must say," Christian Palich, the president of the Ohio Coal Association, told the Washington Free Beacon in an email. "Mr. Strickland must think Ohio coal miners aren’t paying attention to his actions, but I guarantee in November coal country will let him know exactly how they feel about him and his radical environmental friends."

"Ted Strickland is so desperate he is now attacking unions full of hardworking men and women throughout Ohio," Michawn Rich, a spokesman for the Portman campaign, said in a statement. "Ted’s latest meltdown is shameful and smacks of desperation as his campaign continues to hemorrhage support and money."

Rich said that the unions "compared the records of both candidates and concluded there is only one person in this race who has a proven record of fighting for Ohio families and that is Rob."

All three unions endorsed Strickland for governor in 2006 and in his failed reelection bid four years later. Strickland has enjoyed support and financial backing from unions; the candidate’s campaign has received over $240,500 in contributions from political committees associated with unions, according to a Free Beacon analysis of the latest Federal Election Commission records.

According to recent polling, Portman has an edge over Strickland in the contested Senate race.