CINCINNATI (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman handily won re-election over Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland on Tuesday in a race Democrats once considered a good opportunity to pick up a Senate seat.
Portman, who served in the administrations of Republican former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, ran a savvy and well-funded campaign that kept Strickland on the defensive and kept Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a distance leading up to Election Day.
Portman's campaign branded Strickland "Retread Ted" and highlighted Ohio's economic struggles, which saw 350,000 jobs lost during Strickland's governorship. Strickland blamed the Great Recession and said he had started the state's recovery.
Strickland, minutes after The Associated Press projected that Portman had won a second term, issued a statement saying he had called Portman to congratulate him and wish him well. Strickland said the result wasn't what he hoped for but he was grateful to have had the opportunity to speak out for hardworking Ohioans.
"I have dedicated my life to working for working people because that's where I come from," said Strickland, who comes from Appalachian Ohio.
Portman didn't campaign with Trump and withdrew his endorsement of him when a 2005 tape of Trump making lewd comments about kissing and groping women surfaced weeks ago.
Strickland has close ties to Democratic former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. He campaigned with her in the state, in contrast with Portman, who stayed away from Trump even before he withdrew his endorsement after the tape of Trump's comments to then-"Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush came to light.
Democrats nationally were pleased that Strickland, who at 75 would have been the nation's oldest freshman senator ever, was taking on Portman. They thought the first-term incumbent senator was vulnerable in the swing state as they aimed to win back a Senate majority.
But Strickland's initial strong poll numbers faded as the campaign intensified in recent months.
Portman's campaign built a strong effort on the ground and with a tech-savvy digital campaign, besides enjoying a deep reservoir of money for advertising. TV ads highlighted Portman's anti-heroin work, including sponsoring Senate legislation that was passed.
Portman and Strickland are former congressmen who served southern Ohio districts. Strickland contrasted his humble roots in Appalachian Ohio with Portman's affluent family.
Portman was U.S. trade representative and White House budget chief for Republican President George W. Bush.
Portman, 60, had mulled running for president before deciding to focus on his Senate race.