COLUMBUS - Ted Strickland says he failed to get the backing of a prominent union because the group was trading its endorsement for a Senate vote by his Republican opponent, Rob Portman.
"The Teamsters (gave) the endorsement of Rob Portman, because he may have done something that was unethical – perhaps even, it could be proven, illegal," Strickland, the former Democratic governor of Ohio, told a group gathered at the Columbus Metro Club Wednesday afternoon.
The accusation of quid pro quo – an "I'll help you if you help me" agreement – is based on a statement Ken Hall, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' secretary-treasurer, made to the National Press Club in August. Hall said his members don't support free trade deals like Portman does, but were compelled to endorse the Republican anyway, according to a C-SPAN recording.
"The reason, the sole reason, is because we got a commitment that he would vote for our members on the issue of pension reform," Hall said. "That’s our litmus test. If they aren’t going to stand up for our members’ pensions, they aren’t going to get our support."
But senators have not even voted on the pensions bill yet. Teamsters spokeswoman Kara Deniz said Portman received the endorsement because union members agree with Portman on "a number of issues."
"It’s unfortunate that Governor Strickland sees it otherwise," she said.
The Teamsters' endorsement of Portman was a shock to the U.S. Senate race, because labor unions typically endorse Democrats. Strickland has said previously that union members picked his opponent because they needed support on the proposal to protect their pensions. But on Wednesday, he took the accusation one step further.
"If you agree to cast your vote in order to get something, that's illegal. It's certainly unethical. In my judgment, it crosses the line into illegality," Strickland said.
Portman's spokeswoman called Strickland's accusation "a false, baseless political attack from a desperate politician whose career is about to come to an end."
"His words and behavior are both sad and desperate. The Teamsters endorsed Rob because he has a record of standing up for Ohio workers and families. While it may not be what Ted wanted to hear, the Teamsters looked at the records of both candidates in this race and they chose to support Rob," Portman spokeswoman Michawn Rich said.
The existence of an explicit quid pro quo agreement is incredibly difficult to prove, so criminal cases are rare. Strickland told reporters he was looking into whether to pursue a case against Portman and the Teamsters based on the C-SPAN recording.
Strickland is trailing Portman in both fundraising and the polls. The Quinnipiac University and Monmouth University polls released Wednesday both showed Portman had double-digit leads in the race. Talking with reporters, Strickland seemed almost resigned to his possible defeat.
"If I wake up the morning of November the 9th and Hillary Clinton is the president-elect and I have not been successful, I will be a happy guy because we will have saved America from the likes of Donald Trump," he said.