Portman Utilizes Digital Skills to Draw Support

GOP senator turns to new tech strategies as lead grows in Ohio Senate race

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has been leading his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Ted Strickland, by double digits in recent polls. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has been leading his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Ted Strickland, by double digits in recent polls. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 27, 2016 at 11:51am

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman is utilizing digital resources more commonplace in business than in politics in building his lead over Democratic challenger Ted Strickland.

Using techniques such as data mining, YouTube ads and search promotion, Portman has created different messages for different audiences around the state, The Associated Press reported. 

While most political figures use Google, Portman’s prolonged and varied use of digital tools is usually only seen by corporate clients, one expert said. 

“I would say Fortune 500 companies always seem to be a little bit farther ahead than politicians, as you can imagine,” said Lee Dun, head of Google’s elections-industry operation in Washington, D.C. “Candidates are relearning these tools every four or five years, and Fortune 500 companies are learning every day how to utilize the latest available technology.”

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Portman has diverged from traditional television-heavy campaign strategies. Rather, he uses Google search tools to elevate his website, along with sites negative toward Strickland, a former governor. Data-mining gives the campaign the ability to monitor, and quickly pull down and replace ineffective ads.

“Working with the Google team has allowed us to run and target multiple messages at any given time across Ohio and contrast Rob’s accomplishments for Ohio families with Ted Strickland’s failures as governor,” Portman campaign manager Cory Bliss told the AP.

The Strickland campaign said they are using Google resources, too, including digital micro targeting, a marketing strategy that aims to individualize messages to impact the targeted audience’s actions. 

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“We use digital micro targeting in conjunction with our data and analytics to ensure we’re reaching the right voters with the most persuasive argument, and we’re communicating with voters who may not be watching television by placing content on websites like Pandora,” Strickland spokesman David Bergstein said. “If Sen. Portman thinks Google can help him win, he obviously hasn’t Googled his own record.”

However, as Portman increases his digital campaign efforts, support for Strickland is dwindling. The Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic Senate candidates, pulled a week of TV commercials scheduled to air next month, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

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This is not the first time the committee has cancelled commercials on behalf of Strickland. The group scrapped $3 million worth of commercials planned to air Sept. 20 through Oct. 10, as well.

“There’s still a lost of race left to run, and despite an unprecedented deluge of media spending from Sen. Portman and his allies, recent polling shows 23 percent of Ohioans remain undecided,” Bergstein told the newspaper. 

In what was once a close race, Portman has a 13.1 percentage point lead against Strickland, according to the most recent RealClearPolitics average of polls from Aug. 31 through Sept. 23.