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Government & Politics
2018 was a big election year in Ohio. Republicans held onto all five statewide executive offices including governor and super majorities in both the Ohio House and Senate. But there were a few bright spots for Democrats, among them the reelection of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and the election of two Democrats to the Ohio Supreme Court.With election 2018 over, the focus now shifts to governing. Stay connected with the latest on politics, policies and people making the decisions at all levels affecting your lives.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Donald Trump and the Line Between Policies and Character

photo of Trump, Portman
ANDY CHOW
/
OHIO PUBLIC RADIO

Sen. Rob Portman is the latest high-profile Republican to get caught in the middle of the controversy over Donald Trump and racist remarks. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow talked to Portman about the line between policies and character.

Donald Trump questions whether  federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who’s presiding over the Trump University fraud case, can be fair because of Curiel’s Mexican heritage. Several high-ranking Republicans scolded their party’s presumptive presidential nominee for the racially charged comments. But those same leaders stand by Trump as their pick for president.

That includes Ohio’s Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is up for re-election this November. Portman did not pull his endorsement of Trump nor stray from his talking points when pressed on the issue.

“I believe it’s wrong when someone says someone can’t do his or her job because of their heritage, which is basically what he said. So I strongly disagree with his comments and I’ve been very clear on that. In fact I think he should retract his comments on the judge.”

Drawing the line
But Portman’s response and the responses of other GOP leaders like U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan raise the question: Where do politicians draw the line between someone they agree with politically and someone who consistently makes, in their words "racist comments”?

I asked Portman.

“From a policy point of view, when you go policy-by-policy what Donald Trump is promoting lines up more with the agenda that Paul is promoting and what I’m promoting than Hillary Clinton’s.”

Chow: “So policy matters more than comments that are made, possibly racist comments? Is it possible that somebody can go too far and then a racist comment can trump whatever they believe policy wise?”

Portman: “Look I think what he said was offensive, I think it’s wrong, I strongly disagree with it, as I said earlier.  I think it’s broader than just about this one judge.  I think it’s this idea that someone can’t do his or her job because of their heritage. I think again this guy’s as American as I am and as Donald Trump is. So I think that’s where you draw the line on comments like that. But ultimately, what you’re trying to do is elect a president who can help get the country back on track in terms of the economic growth, the opportunity, protect the country. And so you have to look at those policy issues of course.”

Portman is in a big battle to keep his Senate seat against Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland this November.

Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who’s in a similar election fight in Illinois, withdrew his endorsement of Trump following his comments about Judge Curiel.