COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A veteran Democratic state lawmaker is vowing to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio in 2016 because of Portman’s opposition to expanded background checks for gun buyers.
Rep. Robert F. Hagan, of Youngstown, said a Facebook post Wednesday announcing the run was sincere. He pledged to be Portman’s “hair shirt for the next three years” after Portman voted against a bipartisan bill that would have expanded background checks to more gun sales.
Hagan said he viewed a vote for the bill as a vote in favor of the parents of children who were killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“I wasn’t even thinking about it until I started thinking about my grandchildren, and then he voted that way,” said Hagan, a 26-year veteran of the Ohio House and Senate. “I was stunned. I thought of all the so-called moderates who try to pretend they’re moderates, he would have voted with the parents. Instead he voted with the NRA and became a pawn of the NRA.”
Portman said in his weekly call with reporters that the vote was based on principle, not politics.
“I did take a careful look at it,” Portman said. “I spent the time to analyze it, and I do not believe in the end, unfortunately, that it would be effective in preventing the kind of heartbreaking loss we saw in Newtown (or) other recent tragic incidences.”
He said the legislation written by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., “frankly wouldn’t have made a difference in Newtown” but had “several provisions that would make it more difficult for law-abiding Ohioans to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights.”
Hagan said Portman is out of touch with Ohio voters.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Friday showed 84 percent of Ohio voters support the checks. That included strong majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents, both men and women, and both blacks and whites.
“When something like this happens and you’re a politician, you’re an elected official, you’re a public servant, and you see another one ignore public opinion and ignore the overwhelming majority of constituents, you just say perhaps someone has to challenge him,” Hagan said. “And I felt like I had to step up.”
The 64-year-old Hagan retires from the Legislature next year due to term limits. An outspoken liberal, he belongs to a storied Ohio political family that includes a brother who ran for governor in 2002 and a father who ran for lieutenant governor in 1970.
His father, Robert E. Hagan, spent three terms in the Legislature and was employed on the traveling staff of Democratic vice presidential nominee Sargent Shriver as a joke writer during the 1972 election.
The Quinnipiac poll indicated Portman’s favorability among Ohio voters has fallen four percentage points, to 40 percent, since he came out in favor of same-sex marriage as a result of finding out a son of his was gay. The phone survey of 1,138 registered voters was taken April 10-15 and has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
Hagan said personal experiences also drove the families in Newtown.
“That’s the impact that personal events have on people, just like it had on those mothers and fathers at Sandy Hook,” he said. “Those are the events that happen that change people’s lives.”
Portman said, “I think it’s important to keep in mind the fact that even the authors of this bill, Manchin and Toomey, acknowledge that what is in their legislation would not have stopped what happened at Newtown, unfortunately.”
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