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Ohio Senate race now termed ‘toss-up’

New designation reflects closeness of race, presidential uncertainty.

It may be overshadowed by the presidential race, but the Senate contest in Ohio is shaping up as one of the hottest in the country.

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics Thursday changed the outlook from “leans Republican” to “toss-up,” which is a reflection of the closeness of the polls and the unusual dynamics of the presidential race and its potential impact on other contests.

Explaining the change, center officials said Republican Sen. Rob Portman is a skilled, well-funded incumbent, but does not have the “built-in statewide name ID and persona that his two predecessors in this seat possessed.”

The seat was previously occupied by Republican George Voinovich and Democrat John Glenn.

Portman is opposed by Democratic former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who easily defeated Cincinnati councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the March 15 Democratic primary.

Strickland, the authors write, “has to be delighted with the presidential outlook so far: Strickland’s friend and ally Hillary Clinton is well on her way to securing the Democratic nomination, while the Republicans…appear likely to nominate someone out of the mainstream.”

They say that Strickland may receive some crossover vote in Appalachia, which overwhelmingly supported billionaire Donald Trump during the GOP presidential primary.

This is the third political newsletter to move their ratings of the race to “toss-up:” The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report and the Cook Political Report have also done so.

Portman’s campaign does not seem to be worried.

“Ted Strickland is running what is arguably the most awful campaign in the country with no unity, no money, and no strategy. It’s not surprising considering he has the worst record of any Senate candidate in America,” Portman campaign spokesperson Michawn Rich said.

The ranking change comes hours after the Portman for Senate campaign launched a new website aimed at bashing former Strickland’s record on China. The campaign also released a web ad attacking Strickland on China.

The Portman campaign is capitalizing on Strickland’s two votes to give China “Most Favored Nation” status when he was a congressman from southern Ohio. They’re also hitting him for opening a trade office in Beijing.

But Strickland’s campaign says those votes are taken out of context. The 1993 vote was in support of a trade deal so stringent that the Chinese balked. And the 1994 vote, they say, was part of a series of votes that also included two votes with Strickland voting against “Most Favored Nation” status.

“Rob Portman is the best Senator China’s ever had — and now Portman is panicking because he’s got no credible explanation for his decades-long record of supporting unfair, job-killing trade policies that have sent hundreds of thousands of Ohio jobs overseas to places like China,” said David Bergstein, a Strickland spokesman.