PolitiFact Ohio previews the first Ohio Senate debate

via WCPO.com
via WCPO.com

They’ve weathered months of campaigning and a fusillade of attack ads. Now, the candidates for U.S. Senate in Ohio will square off face-to-face in their first debate Friday.

This debate is the first of three in the major Ohio cities of Youngstown, Columbus and Cleveland.

PolitiFact Ohio has kept a close eye on this race, one of the tightest matchups in the country. The incumbent, Republican Sen. Rob Portman, recently pulled away from his challenger in the polls, Democrat Ted Strickland, by 14.5 points. The stream of controversies soaking the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump  has freshened up Strickland’s narrative against Portman, even though he un-endorsed Trump.

Here’s a guide to some of the candidates’ favorite talking points.

Tussle on trade

Portman was a six-term state representative for Ohio before President George W. Bush tapped him as his U.S. Trade Representative, his role from May 2005 to May 2006. He aided the passage of the North American and Central America free trade agreements.

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Strickland likes to call Portman "the best senator China’s ever had." With Portman as U.S. Trade Representative, America’s trade deficit with China increased 21 percent.  

But Strickland went too far in one statement tying Portman’s tenure to an influx of cheap Chinese steel in the market

In reality, Portman filed the first successful suit with the World Trade Organization against China, regarding China’s purchases of domestic auto parts over U.S.- and foreign-made products.

The Strickland ad about Portman’s role in stopping Chinese steel dumping fundamentally mischaracterized the role that the U.S. Trade Representative plays in imposing trade relief measures. We rated it  False.

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‘Beltway Rob’ vs. ‘Retread Ted’

Portman and Strickland have developed passive-aggressive alter egos for each other, with corresponding websites.

At RetreadTed.com, Strickland is portrayed as an absentee congressman, a weak governor and an invisible Senate candidate. He’s criticized for his work at a liberal Washington lobbying firm in the gap between serving as governor and running for Senate.

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BeltwayRob.com knocks Portman’s bio as a career politician in Washington and claims he has poor name recognition in his home state. Portman’s also branded as a flip-flopper on trade, because of his vote to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with countries in Asia, and his more recent statements in opposition to the deal.

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Jobs jousting

Portman is equally hard on Strickland over Ohio’s loss of manufacturing jobs while Strickland was governor from 2007 to 2011. It was an era of economic downturn from which few political leaders emerged unscathed.

Taking a page from Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s playbook, which worked against Strickland in the 2010 governor’s race, Portman and his aligned super PACs blamed Strickland’s governorship for Ohio’s loss of over 350,000 jobs.

The estimated number of lost jobs is accurate, but the finger-pointing is misplaced.

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Strickland became governor at the apex of the nation’s 2008 recession, which snowballed into a global economic crisis. PolitiFact Ohio rated the claim Half True that Strickland alone should be faulted for 350,000 lost jobs. That was the result of forces outside of his control.

"If the roles were reversed, and Ohio were led by a Republican governor and it was Democrats making the accusation, our rating would be the same," PolitiFact Ohio wrote.

We also weighed in on Strickland’s statement that the state’s economic recovery began while he was still governor, in 2010. We called that claim Mostly True.

Comparing their Truth-O-Meter records

PolitiFact Ohio has fact-checked 44 of Portman’s statements and 18 of Strickland’s dating back to 2010. (The site was founded as Strickland’s gubernatorial tenure came to a close.)

Rob Portman

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Ted Strickland

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