In the second U.S. Senate debate Republican incumbent Rob Portman and Democrat Ted Strickland clashed over free trade, raising the minimum wage, gun control, and their support for presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
The two men drew sharp contrasts with one another’s records and views.
When asked about Clinton’s character and honesty, Strickland stood by his long-time political ally, saying she is qualified to be president and cares about children and families. “I believe she is an honest person. (That) doesn’t mean she hasn’t made mistakes and she has admitted some of those mistakes,” Strickland said.
The former governor criticized Portman waiting too long to pull his endorsement of Trump. Portman pulled his endorsement after a 2005 videotape recently surfaced of Trump saying he could kiss and grope women against their will because of his celebrity.
Portman explained: “He was the Republican nominee, still is. He won it fair and square. I’m a Republican. I made the extraordinary decision not to support my own party’s nominee because I found his words that came out about a week or so ago to be so offensive and so wrong …. to me, that was the final straw but I didn’t make the decision lightly.”
Portman said he planned to vote for Trump running mate Mike Pence for president. That prompted Strickland to call Pence “the most anti-gay political leader in the United States of America. So I don’t think Mike Pence is a good second choice.”
Portman pivoted to attack Strickland for failing to speak out when Clinton referred to half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorable.”
Here’s where the two clashed on some major issues during the debate:
TRADE: Strickland criticized Portman’s support for free trade agreements, saying Portman has “never met a trade deal he didn’t like.” Portman, who served as U.S. Trade Representative for the Bush administration, strongly backed NAFTA and CAFTA. Portman, meanwhile, accused Strickland of failing to stand up against China over attempts to illegally dump under-priced steel on U.S. markets.
MINIMUM WAGE: Strickland said he supports increasing the federal minimum wage and said Portman voted against raising it to $10.10 an hour. Portman said he supports raising the federal minimum wage to match Ohio’s minimum wage of $8.10 an hour and then indexing it to inflation. In 2006, labor groups successfully pushed a statewide issue approved by voters to increase the minimum wage and tie it to inflation.
2008 ECONOMIC CRISIS: Portman criticized Strickland’s record as governor from 2007 to 2011, saying the Democrat drained the state’s rainy day fund, presided over the exodus of 350,000 jobs and left an “$8 billion deficit.” Strickland fired back that he used the rainy day fund because it was raining during the Great Recession and he noted that he balanced the state budget every year, as required by the state constitution. He pinned some blame for the Great Recession on Portman, who served in the Bush administration leading up to the economic crisis.
GUNS: Both men have at times received A-ratings from the National Rifle Association, which is now backing Portman. Both say they support the 2nd Amendment as well as some gun controls — Portman wants mental health checks incorporated into existing background checks for gun buyers; Strickland wants to close the loopholes that allow purchases made over the Internet or at gun shows without background checks. Both said they don’t want people on the no fly list to be allowed to buy guns, though Portman’s caveat is that there must be due process to make sure people are properly on the no fly list before being denied the chance to buy firearms.
The two men found common ground on the need for comprehensive immigration reform and to address the opiate and heroin addiction crisis.
Both support immigration reforms for millions of undocumented workers already in the United States. Strickland wants to carve out a pathway to citizenship. Portman wants to deport those with criminal records but allow others to remain in the U.S. legally if they pay a fine and any back taxes.
Portman portrayed himself as a bipartisan change maker who has gotten 45 bills signed into law, including one to address the opiate addiction crisis. He painted Strickland as an ineffective former congressman and failed governor. “The difference couldn’t be any more stark. My record is of getting stuff done. As I said, working across the aisle, making a difference in the lives of Ohioans,” Portman said.
Strickland, on the other hand, pitched himself as a public servant who will fight for working people. Strickland noted that he came from a family that struggled through hard times, lost homes and honest hard work and said that Portman’s story is rooted in wealth, power and privilege.
A CNN poll released Monday found that Portman holds a 16-point lead over Strickland among likely Ohio voters. The poll, taken Oct. 10-15, found 55 percent backing Portman while 40 percent support Strickland. Portman is leading with support from men, Republicans and independents. The same poll gave Portman an 21-point lead in September among likely voters in Ohio.
Monday’s hour-long debate marked the second of three scheduled between the two men. Next up: a debate before The City Club of Cleveland on Thursday.