Strickland Says GOP Vulnerable on Court, Trade

BOARDMAN, Ohio – The Supreme Court will be a “huge issue” in the fall campaigns, the Democratic nominee for U.S. senator, Ted Strickland, promised Wednesday afternoon.

Strickland, fresh off his victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, will face incumbent Republican Rob Portman. Strickland met with supporters, including local Democratic officeholders, at the Yankee Kitchen Restaurant here.

The visit came just over an hour after President Obama’s announcement that he is nominating Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed, the jurist would succeed Antonin Scalia, who died Feb. 13.

The president said Garland is “widely recognized” as one of the nation’s sharpest legal minds as well as an individual “who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modestly, integrity, even-handedness and excellence.” Those qualities, along with his commitment to public service, “have earned him the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle.”

Within an hour of the president’s announcement, Portman issued a statement repeating his stance that it is better to permit “the American people to have a voice in this debate” via the upcoming presidential election.

“We are in the midst of a highly charged presidential election that is less than eight months away, and this lifetime appointment could reshape the Supreme Court for generations,” Portman said. “The best thing for the country is to trust the American people and allow them to weigh in on this issue,” a position once shared by Vice President Biden and Sens. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, he said.

“This is about the principle, not the person,” Portman continued. “Awaiting the result of a democratic election, rather than having a nomination fight in this partisan election-year environment, will give the nominee more legitimacy and better preserve the court’s credibility as an institution. After the election, I look forward to considering the nominee of our new president. Whether the American people elect a Republican or Democrat, I will judge his or her nominee on the merits, as I always have.”

Strickland, who is intent on denying Portman a second term, said the vacancy on the high court will be a “huge factor” in the fall campaigns for a couple of reasons.

First, the court is “an important third branch of government” and the vacancy created by Scalia’s death “should be filled,” Strickland said. Second, “it’ll be a big issue because it illustrates the fact that some of the Republicans will do anything to keep positive developments from happening in Washington, D.C.”

He accused Portman and other GOP senators of being obstructionists.

“Senator Portman has said he would not even meet, not even give the nominee the courtesy of a visit with him,” Strickland said. “This is just another example of how Senator Portman is putting the needs of the Washington powerbrokers over the needs of the people of Ohio.”

During his stop in Boardman, Strickland shared his thoughts on the results of Tuesday’s Ohio primaries. Hillary Clinton, whom Strickland supports to win the Democratic nomination, did well in all five states, he noted.

The results solidify Clinton’s lead and make it “much more likely that she will be the eventual nominee of the party,” he said. Both Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont are “fighters for the middle class and working people, but Ohio embraced Hillary Clinton big-time yesterday,” he said.

On the Republican side, Gov. John Kasich, who ousted Strickland as governor in 2010, thwarted GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, denying the businessman Ohio’s 66 Republican delegates in the winner-take-all contest. However, Trump claimed about half the GOP vote in Mahoning and Columbiana counties, both of which were part of Strickland’s district when he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Trump fared equally well in Trumbull County.

“Donald Trump won all along the Ohio River … nearly all of the counties in my former congressional district,” he remarked. He attributed Trump’s support there to his “talking about the job-killing trade deals that have cost so many jobs along this part of Ohio and that resonated with people,” he said. “People are sick and tired of trade deals that ship jobs offshore.”

Trade will be an issue in the Senate race, he promised. Portman “is the best senator that China has ever had. He’s been a cheerleader of these job-killing deals,” he said.

Strickland criticized Portman for his vote supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership but has since had an “election-year conversion” and now says he can’t vote for TPP as it is written now. “Well, last year when he voted to fast-track the TPP, he took away from himself any ability to modify that trade agreement,” Strickland said.

While many local Democrats and unaffiliated voters requested ballots to vote for Trump in the Ohio primary, Strickland isn’t concerned that those voters will stay in Trump’s corner for the fall election, should he become the Republican nominee.

“A lot of the people who voted for Donald Trump because of the trade issue don’t understand that Donald Trump says that wages are too high … making us noncompetitive,” he said.

David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, similarly expressed confidence that crossover voters will return to support the Democratic nominee. “There was a lot of what I call Traficant people,” voters who were “very loyal to” the late congressman James A. Traficant Jr., and Trump “picked up a lot of those people,” as well as unaffiliated voters.

Like Strickland, Betras posits that many voters haven’t been informed about Trump’s “anti-worker record,” including his opposition to the minimum wage and labor unions, and his position that American workers are paid too much.

“When you tell American workers that you’re paid too much, that’s not a message they want to hear,” he remarked. “American workers aren’t paid too much. Their wages have been going down, down, down and down.”

Harry Meshel, former Ohio Democratic Party chairman who was on hand for Strickland’s appearance, acknowledged Democrats “will probably lose some” of the crossover voters.

Meshel doesn’t discount people’s desire to vote for Trump “because they’re upset with everything, and I understand that. If you’re not getting what you think you should get out of life, you have to look someplace to express your anger and animosity,” he said, “and they’re doing that.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.