GOP incumbent, former governor wage heated race

CINCINNATI (AP) — Like two heavyweight boxers battling for the title belt, Republican Sen. Rob Portman and former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, are trading a relentless series of punches and counter-punches, with control of the U.S. Senate potentially on the line in Ohio.

“Beltway Rob” and “Retread Ted,” as their campaigns call each other, have been going at each other for over a year. They still have four months left, and millions more to spend in what could be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year. With high stakes and two experienced politicians in an evenly divided state, they’re both expected to keep pounding to the finish.

However, their pervasive attacks over TV, radio, websites, email blasts and social media are already wearing thin on some voters, who don’t like all the focus on going after each other. A recent check of campaign websites showed in 10 recent highlighted press releases on each, Portman was targeted in eight of the headlines on Strickland’s site while Strickland was in five of Portman’s last 10 headlines.

“I’m so fed up with the whole political gamut,” said Ann Zimmer, 44, a payroll employee in Cincinnati. “It’s all about who has the most money. They’re not talking about what they’re going to do to help the working people.”

Retired Columbus ice cream packager Ida Davis, 79, said she’d like to see restrictions on negative advertising.

“It just upsets me for people to be so mean and say mean things about each other,” she said.

Portman’s campaign greeted Strickland’s candidacy announcement in February 2015 with a “” website laying out its key attack on Strickland — that he drove Ohio into an economic ditch as governor with some 350,000 jobs lost. Portman says has “a terrible record,” while Strickland says he governed during the nationwide recession and had the state on the upswing when he left office.

Soon, Strickland’s campaign had “” up, highlighting its contention that Portman is a Washington player beholden to special interests. Strickland calls Portman “the insider’s insider,” while Portman answers he’s a “common-sense conservative” who gets things done.

Democratic strategist Derrick Clay said the stakes and the credentials of the candidates — besides winning statewide races, each served 12 years in Congress among other roles — ensure “a war of who can outlast each other.”

Their long records provide plenty of votes, statements and roles to target for attacks, keeping the race heated.

That’s despite the two candidates’ generally low-key and affable natures: The gentlemanly Portman prides himself on working collegially across aisles; Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister, exudes the down-home folksiness of his native Appalachia.

“A campaign doesn’t usually reflect the personality of the candidate,” said Mark Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist in Ohio. “It usually reflects the strategy needed to win.”

So, he said, expect the candidates to “do what they need to do … within the law and within ethics.”

Mitchell Fleming, 50, a Columbus construction worker, is OK with that. He said he tries to put the negative claims in context.

“I really think politics is just politics,” he said. “I look at it as both sides are trying to win. I try to look at the total package.”

Planned spending so far in the race is some $45 million, including by the campaigns, the parties and outside special-interest groups.

Expect many more ads in the final months — though a political scientist said there comes a point of diminishing returns.

“You pretty quickly reach a limit in what you can accomplish,” said Justin Buchler, of Case Western Reserve University.

It’s also unclear whether the presidential race will affect the Senate outcome. Strickland’s campaign frequently calls on Portman to repudiate presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, while Portman’s highlighted Hillary Clinton’s comments on coal miners while trumpeting he won the United Mine Workers of America endorsement over Strickland.

Recent polls indicate both races are nearly even, with no knockouts looming.

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