Columbus -- Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic challenger Ted Strickland will meet three times in October for debates in their hotly contested November matchup.
The sessions are set for Oct. 14 in Youngstown, Oct. 17 in Columbus and Oct. 20 in Cleveland, with one hour allotted for each and a format that includes time for answers and rebuttals.
"It's a chance to talk to Ohio voters who haven't heard from us yet about our plans for the future," Portman told reporters Aug. 17, after picking up the endorsement of Ohio Veterans United at a suburban Columbus VFW post. "In my case, I'm going to be talking about the record I'm really proud of, including our record helping the veterans and what we've done for Ohio over the last five years and what we intend to do going forward."
He added, "It's a big contrast to my opponent. He has a bio up right now that doesn't about his record because there's not much there. When he was in the House, literally I can't find a single bill that he authored or co-authored that became law. I can point to over 40 just in my time in the Senate and many more when I was in the House/."
Portman pulled ahead of the former Ohio governor in the latest Quinnipiac Poll, though other polls have the race tighter. Both campaigns are taking regular swipes at the other side.
Strickland has focused much attention on Portman's support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. In a released statement Aug. 17, Strickland questioned whether Portman believed Trump could handle U.S. nuclear codes.
"As the highest ranking elected Republican in Ohio to endorse Donald Trump, Sen. Portman should immediately clarify whether he trusts Trump with this responsibility," Strickland said. "If Sen. Portman won't answer the question, or if his answer is 'no,' that's all the more reason for him to retract his endorsement of the most toxic and divisive presidential nominee in modern history."
Strickland added, "I have repeatedly commended Gov. Kasich and numerous other Republicans for refusing to support Trump, but Sen. Portman has not shown the same moral integrity or courage. Sen. Portman is relying on some very twisted logic: He won't even stand on the same stage as Trump, but he thinks Trump should lead our country and control our nation's security."
Michawn Rich, a spokesman for Portman's campaign, responded in a released statement that, "Rob believes that Mr. Trump and the national security team he appoints will protect our security interests and do everything they can to keep America safe, and that includes the president's nuclear responsibilities."
Asked about Trump Aug. 17, Portman said he's focused on running his own grassroots U.S. Senate campaign in a battle that could determine the balance of power in that chamber.
"We had 1,500 volunteers over the weekend helping us to contact over 100,000 voters," Portman said. "That's never been done in Ohio before. No other campaign in the country is doing this."
He added, "The next week and a half, we've got about 40 stops over about 25 counties. We're doing our own thing, we're running our own independent campaign/ I don't focus on the presidential because this is the Senate race. It's a really important Senate race. I'm asking voters to choose between me and Ted Strickland/ The majority of the Senate may well hinge on what happens in Ohio."
Portman's stop in Hilliard Aug. 17 focused on veterans issues, with the senator promising to push for his Medical Evaluation Parity for Servicemembers legislation and other policies to assist military men and women.
"This is incredibly important right now," Portman said. "We do have a lot of veterans who are coming back who have physical needs but also invisible [needs]. Whether it's because of traumatic brain injuries, whether it's because of PTSD, whether it's because of other mental health situations, the military does not do a good enough job evaluating them/ If we had these evaluations, and they were thorough evaluations, we'd be able to get the veterans into the care that they need much more easily."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.