Wednesday, December 9, 2009

With Lee Fisher, he's talking experience

Lee Fisher's appearance at the Akron Press Club this week concluded the club's program series of U.S. senatorial candidates that served more as preliminaries to next May's Ohio primary election. Fisher, the Democratic lieutenant governor and former Ohio attorney general, carefully crafted a talk that, much like an experienced chess player, moved confidently from an opening gambit to a solid endgame and one didn't have to listen that attentively to know that he is marketing his governmental experience to the fullest in his encounter with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

"I've been on the ground doing the things that we've been talking about," he said, noting that he has been working as the state' economic development chief during a period of deep economic stress nationally and in Ohio. On that score, one doesn't need a high priced political guru to point to the most effective option to win the voters hearts these days: J-O-B-S. Fisher spent a good portion of his talk on the topic., voicing a number of economic initiatives he supports. For example, some relief could come from giving tax credits to the businesses capable of spurring employment, he said. And no tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

He also sent a strong signal that the Democrats will not let anybody forget that Rob Portman, the leading Republican candidate in the field, came out of the Bush administration as the president's trade and budget director - an administration that left a mountainous economic mess. He characterized Portman as a "nice guy" who was an architect of "policies that harmed millions of workers."

On this score, Brunner, his Democratic primary opponent, will have to play catch-up to Fisher in articulating the clear differences between Democrats and Republicans in fixing the economy. Although she is running well behind Fisher in fund-raising, she is nonetheless a popular figure in the state, particularly among women voters. In her talk to the Press Club, she spoke more as an efficient Secretary of State than as a senatorial candidate. That will gain little traction as the campaign wears on.

On the Republican side, although Portman is the Republican establishment's choice , there has to be unease in that camp over the fact that Ganley, a wealthy auto dealer, is committing millions of dollars to a campaign drawing the attention of the party's right-wingers. It could sap campaign funds from Portman that would be more productive against the Democrat in the November. As they have already demonstrated, the Tea Partyers will not go quietly. It promises to be a boisterous campaign. I may find myself watching it.

Look for the opening bell to ring clearly on both sides in January, offering fewer than four months for a made-for-TV campaign. Will Sarah Palin show up for a Ganley rally. Better chance of that happening than George Bush showing up for a Portman shindig.

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