In a ‘change’ year, Sen. Port­man de­serves re-elec­tion

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - George Will

— Sen. Rob Port­man prob­a­bly will win a sec­ond term, de­spite the fact that he de­serves to. The swarm of young peo­ple who gath­ered on a Satur­day morn­ing in this Cincin­nati sub­urb to feast on dough­nuts and his grat­i­tude are among the 5,000 vol­un­teer in­terns, in­clud­ing stu­dents from 35 cam­puses, who have made 3.5 mil­lion voter con­tacts. Port­man’s sup­port­ers are a forgiving sort, un­de­terred by his many ac­com­plish­ments and qual­i­fi­ca­tions that could be dis­qual­i­fy­ing in this sea­son of pop­ulist an­tag­o­nism to­ward peo­ple who have ac­tu­ally gov­erned.

A grad­u­ate of Dart­mouth and the Univer­sity of Michi­gan Law School, Port­man was one of Pres­i­dent George H.W.

TER­RACE PARK, OHIO

Bush’s coun­selors. Af­ter six terms in Congress, Port­man be­came Pres­i­dent George W. Bush’s trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive and, a year later, di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get.

It gets worse: This year’s Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing elec­torate de­cided that the lungs are the lo­cus of wis­dom, but Port­man is as quiet as his 19th-cen­tury Quaker abo­li­tion­ist an­ces­tors prob­a­bly were when as­sist­ing the Un­der­ground Rail­road. (In “Un­cle Tom’s Cabin,” El­iza es­capes over the Ohio River ice floes about 50 miles east of here.)

Given to­day’s apoth­e­o­sis of the out­sider, Port­man is for­tu­nate to be run­ning against a for­mer con­gress­man and gov­er­nor, Ted Strick­land, a po­lit­i­cal lifer who first ran for Congress (un­suc­cess­fully) 40 years ago. He is an or­dained Methodist min­is­ter from the gun-tot­ing coal coun­try of south­east­ern Ohio. For­tu­nately for Port­man, Strick­land, af­ter los­ing the gov­er­nor­ship to John Ka­sich in 2010, be­came head of the Washington-based, im­pec­ca­bly lib­eral Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress Ac­tion Fund. What was he think­ing? Prob­a­bly not about run­ning again in Ohio.

Strick­land has re­vised the Clin­to­nian mantra about mak­ing abor­tions “safe, le­gal and rare.” He seems to pre­fer “safe, le­gal and as fre­quent as sub­si­dies can make them”: He fa­vors re­peal of the Hyde Amend­ment which for 40 years has banned tax­payer fund­ing of abor­tions. The cen­ter sup­ports many gun con­trol mea­sures un­ac­cept­able to the NRA, which sup­ported Strick­land in 2010 but has en­dorsed Port­man. The Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress shares the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s an­i­mus against coal, so the United Mine Work­ers (like the Team­sters and the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice) have aban­doned Strick­land.

Tip O’Neill’s in­ces­santly quoted ax­iom — “All pol­i­tics is lo­cal” — is in­creas­ing false in po­lar­ized Amer­ica, where many elec­tions are na­tion­al­ized. This year, how­ever, it is in Port­man’s in­ter­est to stress lo­cal is­sues un­re­lated to any­thing be­ing bel­lowed about by the per­son at the top of the Repub­li­can ticket. Sixty-thou­sand el­i­gi­ble vot­ers say that the big­gest is­sue for them is al­gae threat­en­ing Lake Erie. And the big­gest is­sue might be the epi­demic of deaths from heroin and other opi­oids. Na­tion­ally, such deaths — about 27,000 a year — are al­most half the drug over­dose deaths that now take more Amer­i­can lives than do car crashes. Opi­oids are es­pe­cially dev­as­tat­ing in post-in­dus­trial com­mu­ni­ties, of which Ohio has its share. In 2012, Ohio was one of 12 states where the num­ber of opi­oid pre­scrip­tions writ­ten was larger than the num­ber of peo­ple. Ohioans who are pleased that Port­man au­thored the Com­pre­hen­sive Ad­dic­tion and Re­cov­ery Act must for­give him for hav­ing done so in Washington.

In Port­man’s 15-minute park­ing-lot pit­ter-patter to his sup­port­ers here, he did not men­tion the cho­leric man at the top of the ticket. Port­man’s strate­gic ret­i­cence does not ex­tend to the mat­ter of trade: He has made the oblig­a­tory vow to op­pose the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship. Strick­land’s one-track-mind cam­paign fo­cuses on in­ter­na­tional trade as the root of most of Ohio’s evils. Never mind that Honda is Ohio’s big­gest auto em­ployer and that Port­man says one-third of the state’s farm acres are grow­ing crops for ex­port.

Six pres­i­dents were elected from this state (Wil­liam Henry Har­ri­son, Ruther­ford Hayes, James Garfield, Wil­liam McKin­ley, Wil­liam Taft, Warren Hard­ing), a sev­enth (U.S. Grant) was born here, and there could have been an eighth — Robert Taft (18891953). A pres­i­dent’s son, he was “Mr. Repub­li­can” dur­ing his 14 years rep­re­sent­ing Ohio in the Se­nate seat that Port­man now oc­cu­pies. Then as now, Ohio had many bluecol­lar in­dus­trial work­ers, and Taft’s crit­ics said he could not rep­re­sent them. So, in 1947 a reporter asked Taft’s wife, “Do you think of your hus­band as a com­mon man?” Aghast, she replied:

“Oh, no, no! The sen­a­tor is very un­com­mon. He was first in his class at Yale and first in his class at the Har­vard Law School. We wouldn’t per­mit Ohio to be rep­re­sented in the Se­nate by just a com­mon man.”

In 1950, Taft was eas­ily re­elected. Port­man prob­a­bly will be, too, even though he should be.

George Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@wash­post.com.

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