Portman taking on Strickland over trade deals

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Sen Rob Portman

Here’s what they would call in politics “flipping the script.”

Jessica Wehrman in the Washington Bureau is reporting that Democrats for weeks have been all but gleefully wringing their hands in anticipation as they wait for Sen. Rob Portman – running for re-election in 2016 – to back a series of high-profile trade deals that have polled as politically unpopular in Ohio.

Polls have indicated Ohioans worry that these trade deals cost the state valuable jobs and that they hurt Ohio workers.

This week, Portman, a former U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush, tried to change the debate. His argument?  Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is the outsourcer, according to Portman’s campaign.

In a series of web ads that will run this week – we typically ignore web ads, but the themes of this one were a bit too scintillating to ignore – Portman uses a familiar script – that the state lost 350,000 jobs when Strickland was governor – to make it sound like Strickland is the one who bleeds Ohio jobs and to link it, albeit tenuously, to trade.

Here’s his evidence: a series of job losses that went to other states, which isn’t technically trade-related, if we’re sticking to semantics, and a 2010 report that a firm paid $357,300 to administer the state’s $10.5 million stimulus-funded appliance rebate program outsourced jobs to El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

At the same time, Portman’s campaign accuses Strickland of being “against exports.”

“Under Strickland’s leadership, Ohio exports stalled and even lost ground for the first time in 11 years,” wrote Corry Bliss, Portman’s campaign manager.

According to the Ohio Department of Development, Ohio exports did plunge briefly in 2009, but that was when the national economy was in a steep recession, and the numbers are reflective of what went on across the nation (historic charts of U.S. exports over time are nearly identical to the state’s charts). By 2010, however – Strickland’s last year in office, exports rebounded by about 20 percent. They’ve continued to rebound, mirroring the national economy’s continued improvement.

Bliss said the online ad campaign will occur statewide and continue for a week. “People will absolutely see it,” he said.

Democrats say this is actually the classic bait and switch – try to distract voters from the fact that Portman is generally supportive of trade agreements by flipping the whole argument on its head.

Dennis Willard, a Strickland spokesman, said Portman “is desperate to distract voters from his vote to fast track jobs overseas, because he knows his days in the Senate are numbered once voters find out about his disastrous outsourcing record. But, Portman can’t buy his way out of this one. After cheerleading (the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement) through, quarterbacking President Bush’s disastrous outsourcing agenda, and voting to let the Pacific trade deal sail through Congress unchecked, Portman’s long record of outsourcing is clear.”


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