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Will Ohio's Senate Candidates Want To Spend Much Time With Their Presidential Candidates?

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It's entirely possible – even likely – that many people, including the subset of humanity known as "political pundits," can take polling done six months before a presidential election way too seriously.

Not to denigrate the pollsters. The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, the academic polling operation that released two "key state" polls on the presidential election and Senate elections in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania last week is well-respected and professional.

It's more a matter of how polls are perceived. Too many people look at them as predictive of election results, rather than what they are (especially at this stage of the game): a snapshot of where things stand now. Not on November 8th, election day, but right now.

Obviously, in Ohio, we have dual high-stakes contests going on; and the two of them are closely intertwined.

One, of course, is the presidential race that will pit the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, versus the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Yes, we know. They're not the nominees yet. Anyone out there want to make a wager that they won't be?

The other is a race that could be crucial in the battle that is second on this year's election fight card – the race for control of the U.S. Senate. In Ohio, that means incumbent Republican Rob Portman battling former Democratic governor Ted Strickland.

And Portman, while he is saying he will back the GOP nominee, is feeling his way around just how close he wants to get to Trump and is trying to snuff out suggestions that Trump is considering him as his running mate.

So what do the polls say?

Well, it's really, really close. In both races. For now. Today.

The Quinnipiac Poll released last Tuesday opened some eyes when it showed Trump with a four percentage point lead over Clinton in Ohio – 43 to 39 percent. The same poll showed that Clinton's challenger for the nomination, Bernie Sanders, had a two percentage point lead over Trump.

In both Florida and Pennsylvania, Clinton had 43 percent to Trump's 42 percent – a statistical tie.

In Ohio, 1,042 Ohio voters were surveyed with a margin of error of plus or minus three percent.

A "gender gap" might explain Trump's strength in those states.

"This election may be good for divorce lawyers,'' said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll. "The gender gap is massive and currently benefits Trump."

In Ohio, Clinton was up seven percentage points among women voters but down 15 percentage points with men.

Not good. The Clinton campaign has to do everything in its power to increase that advantage among women voters. So expect plenty of TV ads in Ohio and other key states reminding voters of some of the rather insulting things Trump had to say about various women during his march to the nomination.

David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati and a former political speech writer, said he believes the presidential race in Ohio will be a close one and that the Democrats have the advantage.

"The days of the landslide elections are over,'' Niven said.

There is an "incredible irony" in this year's presidential race, Niven said.

"On one hand, you have Hillary Clinton, who, by any measure, is the second most unpopular presidential candidate in history,'' Niven said. "And, fortunately for her, she is running again the most unpopular presidential candidate in the history of the country in Donald Trump."

The national polls back Niven on that assertion.

Ironically, the fact that both candidates are disliked by so many people could well drive up turnout in November, Niven said.

The Senate race in Ohio is clearly tied to the presidential race.

According to the Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday, the Senate race in Ohio is a dead heat – Strickland with 43 percent support, compared to 42 percent for Portman. With a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, that one point lead for Strickland is meaningless.

It's probably a flat-footed tie at this point.

In Ohio, the gender gap is not as big a deal in the Senate race as it is in the presidential contest. The Quinnipiac Poll said Portman had a five percentage point advantage among men, while Strickland held a six percentage point lead among women.

The Strickland campaign and its allies in the Democratic Party are busy trying to paint Trump as an albatross around Portman's neck; and, in the end, they may be right. Portman has tried to put a happy face on it, saying that Trump could help his chances by bringing so many new voters into the equation.

But Trump may not be Portman's biggest worry.

The junior senator, first elected to the Senate in 2010, has been on the political scene for nearly a quarter of century, serving 12 years as the congressman from Ohio's Second Congressional District and holding two fairly high profile jobs in the administration of President George W. Bush, U.S. Trade Representative and budget director.

Still, if the polls are to be believed, many Ohioans don't have a clear idea of who he is.

Quinnipiac asked Ohio voters if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Senate candidates, or if they have not heard enough about them to form an opinion.

Strickland's number: 37 percent favorable, 31 percent unfavorable, and 31 percent didn't know enough to form an opinion.

Portman's numbers: 35 percent favorable, 22 percent unfavorable, and 42 percent said they didn't know enough about him.

"Sen. Rob Portman might consider introducing himself to Ohioans,'' Brown said. "He is locked in a neck-and-neck re-election fight in which 42 percent of voters say they don't know enough about him to have an opinion. In fact, Democratic opponent Ted Strickland, a former governor, is somewhat better known than he is."

Money cures a lot of ills in politics; and Portman has plenty of that.

The current poll numbers may have a lot to do with why the Portman campaign reserved a whopping $15 million in TV advertising this week – by far the largest amount of money committed to TV ads in any Senate campaign so far this year.

As far as Trump is concerned, Portman appears to be coming to terms with the reality of the reality TV star as his party's top-of-the-ticket leader.

After Trump had a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan Thursday – a meeting which both said went well, but did not result in a Ryan endorsement of Trump – the presumptive nominee met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and nine other Senators. Portman was one of those McConnell invited to attend the session.

According to The Hill, a political newspaper and website read religiously by political people from both sides of the aisle, Portman came out of the meeting saying it was "a good listening session on both sides."

Asked about the speculation that Trump has him on a list of potential running mates, Portman had a terse answer.

"No, I'm fine,'' Portman said. "I'm running for the Senate in Ohio."

His campaign manager has said that Portman has no intention of going through a vetting process to be considered a running mate. He was on the list of potential running mates of the last two GOP nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

And, when it comes to running with Clinton at the top of the ticket, Strickland, too, may find it is no walk in the park.

Strickland has been a vocal backer of Clinton. But Friday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) released a video called "Toxic,'' which included images of Strickland and other Democratic U.S. Senate candidates around the country.

It argued that the FBI investigation of her alleged secret e-mail server to scandals dating back to her husband's presidency make her "toxic" to candidates such as Strickland.

"Hillary Clinton hasn't just endangered national security; she's endangered Ted Strickland's Senate candidacy,'' an NRSC press release said.

In the end, this might be a year when both Senate candidates might want to run their own campaigns and spend as little time with their parties' presidential candidates as possible.

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