Is Senator Rob Portman's Campaign Model the Future Of the GOP? We Had Better Hope So

Is Senator Rob Portman's Campaign Model the Future Of the GOP? We Had Better Hope So
FILE - In this July 19, 2016, file photo, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, right, arrives with his wife arrive at the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, during the second day of the Republican convention. Portman rolls out a labor endorsement from a union that had backed his Democratic rival Ted Strickland amid growing concerns among Democrats that Strickland is running a lackluster campaign and their chances of flipping the Ohio seat could be slipped away. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

As I posted earlier today, there is an interesting phenomenon happening in the down ballot races, particularly those for the Senate. GOP candidates aren’t winning everywhere, Mark Kirk is a goner (good riddance) and Ron Johnson will require a deux ex machina for him to win, but in every case GOP senate candidates are running ahead of Donald Trump. Even where they are losing, they are making a much stronger showing than Trump. For instance, Johnson leads Trump by 5 points. Kirk leads Trump by 7 points. But the most interesting case is in Ohio where Trump is getting his clock cleaned and Portman has already put away his opponent, Ted Strickland.

Bloomberg Politics has an interesting report on how this came to be.

Rob Portman may have been the last of nine senators to abandon Donald Trump in the day after the revelation of his sexual-assault boast, waiting until well after dark on Saturday to rescind his endorsement. But while the delay may have indicated caution, Portman’s language did not reflect a wrenching deliberation. “I had hoped to support the candidate my party nominated in the primary process,” Ohio’s junior senator explained in an austere six-sentence statement. “While I continue to respect those who still support Donald Trump, I can no longer support him.”

If Portman’s words were relatively free of drama, it is because the public unhitching of his fortunes from Trump’s merely formalized an inevitable divergence of their objectives. Already by Labor Day, polls showed him on the precipice of a landslide against his Democratic challenger, former Governor Ted Strickland, with little sign that Trump interfered with his plans. Public polls indicate at one in seven Ohioans is on a trajectory to back both Portman and Hillary Clinton.

…Over the past year and a half, he has assiduously assembled an organization that would keep him from being reliant on the Ohio Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, or its presidential nominee to identify and mobilize his supporters. As a result he finds himself today with a broader coalition, often motivated by local issues, and much less dependent on Trump’s supporters—and on the RNC’s largesse—than other Republican senators on the ballot this season. Portman had quietly grown so self-sufficient that, in an inversion of the natural order, by the time he rescinded his support, he already controlled Trump’s fate.

Even before Trump declared his candidacy, Portman was intent on building his own constituency beyond the Republican base. Strickland was certain to do well in places where no other Democrat could—his geographical base was in the Appalachian corner of southeastern Ohio—which meant that Portman would have to make up lost ground anywhere. “The goal of our targeting is to not only identify the people in the middle but to identify what issue each person cares about and then how to have a meaningful conversation with that person on that issue,” said Corry Bliss, who became Portman’s campaign manager in January 2015.

To pull it off, Bliss set out to build out Portman’s own volunteer ranks, with supporters who would not be under the sway of the party organization. Over the first eight months of the year, Bliss and other campaign staffers set out to visit every high school within a 30-mile radius of a Portman campaign office. They asked civics teachers if it would be possible to speak to their classes, and invited students to join the campaign. About 200 high-school students signed up to be full-time volunteers, with the title of ambassador.

Portman also contributed more the state GOP victory fund than did the RNC thereby giving Portman essential control of the money the GOP did contribute:

…Through the end of August, Portman had transferred $1.78 million to the state party’s victory account, compared to the RNC’s $1.66 million. (At Portman fundraisers, such as one last week in Dayton with House Speaker Paul Ryan, donors who give Portman the maximum send $10,000 to the state party through a joint fundraising account.) That financial disparity, says former party chair DeWine, is “unheard of.”

“Portman’s bought the right to direct Ohio’s GOTV operation,” said Luke Thompson, a former director of analytics at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “In a normal year, the top of the ticket controls Victory, but they make allowances for others.”

If, as I suspect, donations to the RNC start to be outstripped by donations to individual candidates — I know I’ve given my last dollar to those cretins — then more and more candidates will become the leading partner in the state operation, not the RNC.

Essentially, Portman decided he wanted to win and went about building and funding an organization dedicated to his campaign and which was not subject to the whims of the Branch Trumpidians running the RNC these days. Portman offers any incumbent a senator to ensure that his or her own reelection is the priority project in their state. It puts them in the driver’s seat rather than making them poor relations to the RNC. It requires a lot more work by the candidate than sitting around waiting for help from the RNC but it is much more reliable.

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