The presidential race in Ohio is tight, with polls going back and forth between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. And the tension in in the race definitely shows when the chairs of those two parties met face to face for a preview of this fall’s election.
Hillary Clinton’s health issues are not a concern to most Ohio voters, according to state Democratic Party Chair David Pepper. He said the campaign admits it could have handled the announcement of her diagnosis of pneumonia better, but the questions about her health aren’t the real problem. “Let’s move forward and get back to the real issues,” Pepper said. “And frankly, if someone needs to be more transparent, it’s the guy who still won’t release his taxes.”
Trump has said he won’t release his tax returns pending an audit, though he’s never shown proof of that. If he doesn’t release his tax information, he’d be the first major party candidate since 1972 to refuse to. But Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges said for everything that can be said about Donald Trump on financial issues and transparency, it can also be said about Clinton. “She can’t tell the truth about anything ever. And Ohio voters know that – they’ve had a longstanding relationship with the Clintons,” Borges said.
Borges is a fairly new supporter to the Trump campaign. He had supported Gov. John Kasich’s bid for the Republican nomination for president and called Trump’s rhetoric “irresponsible”, “inappropriate” and “divisive”, and once said that 80% of the electorate wouldn’t vote for Trump. Pepper noted that when Borges repeatedly brought up the tone of the campaign and recent comments from the Clinton camp, including the “basket of deplorables” remark she directed at Trump supporters at a recent fundraiser. “Leaders within the party like me have said those things are not acceptable,” Borges said. “What Democratic leader came out and said Hillary Clinton shouldn’t call Republicans racists? None. You know why? Because they agree with her, and they’re pushing the same message that she is.”
Pepper fired back: “The heart of what the campaign is saying is the same thing that you and John Kasich said for a year. He espouses all this anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-woman sentiment. Those statements are deplorable. She is saying literally what you said.”
Borges says he’s confident in the US Senate race, with several months’ worth of polls showing incumbent Rob Portman with a lead over Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland. Pepper says that’s the result of $45 million in dark money spent against Strickland, and he’s confident that Strickland can come back because of the party’s strength in registering voters and getting out the vote. “It’s not over. Ted Strickland was actually down seventeen in the Quinnipiac poll in 2010.” When reminded that Strickland lost that race to now-Gov. John Kasich, Pepper said, “He closed to two. And they didn’t have the ground game we have.”
Portman has been criticized for endorsing Trump and yet not ever appearing with him or publicly renouncing his controversial statements. While one columnist said Strickland’s campaign is on life support, Portman has run what he calls a calculated political execution. Borges disagrees: “Rob Portman has run the best campaign in America, he has run the best campaign in this country.” When asked if Portman’s been able to have it both ways, Borges doesn’t respond but pivots, saying, “The worst campaign in the country is being run by Hillary Clinton and Ted Strickland right here in Ohio and that’s why we’re going to be successful in November.” And when asked if Portman will campaign with Donald Trump, Borges admits, “I don’t know the answer to that. At some point in time, I imagine they would, but I really don’t know the answer to that.”
And Pepper says that answer shows Portman puts party over country in this election year.