Senator Rob Portman speaks to students at the US Bank Theater Conference Center at Ohio Union on September 1. Credit: Joely Friedman / Lantern Reporter

Senator Rob Portman speaks to students on Sept. 1 at the US Bank Theater Conference Center at the Ohio Union. Credit: Joely Friedman / Lantern Reporter

Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman talked to Ohio State students Tuesday evening about student debt and the importance of the upcoming elections for young adults while at the Ohio Union. The event was hosted by the College Republicans.

“Students are focused more on the social issues than the economic issues,” Portman said. “And that’s fine, we can talk about that too. But I will say, almost half the graduates today can’t get a job that matches their degree. Average student debt is $28,000 — that’s crippling. Young people should care about the economic issues.”

Portman told The Lantern after his speech that college students should be interested in his 2016 senate campaign because he is concerned with “creating more jobs for graduating seniors and bringing more opportunities to everyone by getting our economy in the right direction.”

Portman also voiced concerns that the Affordable Care Act disproportionately affects younger people.

“The basic theory is younger, healthier people are going to pay for older, sicker people,” he said.

The senator casually spoke to students for almost an hour.

“It’s going to be an unbelievable year for us here in Ohio, so put on your seatbelts because this state is the road to the White House,” he said.

Portman gave a conversational speech in which he talked freely and used no notes. He walked around the stage with the microphone in his hand, leaving the podium behind.

“I’m really excited about this election,” Portman said. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to begin helping to get the economy back on track, helping to get our country back on track, and helping to deal with the frustrations that so many feel, that I feel, about Washington.”

Portman also warned students about what he thinks will happen to the country if another democrat is elected, saying he expects “more regulation, higher taxes and more government.”

Another issue that Portman stressed was the importance of criminal justice reform, which he said was an issue of concern. Strickland also brought up the subject during his visit on Aug. 27 at the Ohio Union.

“The way we handle people who return from prison makes no sense. More than half of the people who get out of jail are back within three years,” Portman said. “We need to give these people a little help. Not a handout, but a hand-up. Help them with job skills to get them a good job.”

The senator said he also cares deeply about the human trafficking problem and that he is for same-sex marriage.

“It’s about treating people with respect, no matter what,” he said.

Portman’s speech ended with a standing ovation from the audience, including from his wife, Jane, who was there supporting him.

Joey Towbin, a first-year in air transportation, is a Republican from Orange County, California, who attended Portman’s speech and said he believes that “we need strong leaders in 2016 to bring new valuable jobs and who are not intimidated by political correctness.”

Towbin said he cares most about national security issues and the debt crisis, which the Congressional Budget Office has predicted will be $19.1 trillion debt by the end of President Barack Obama’s term.

Mircea Lazar, the communications director for the OSU College Democrats and a third-year in international relations and economics, said the College Democrats are happy to see high-profile political figures come to campus. He compared Portman’s visit to former Gov. Ted Strickland’s visit on Aug. 27.

“In contrast, Senator Portman’s visit Tuesday brought more of the same to campus — more trickle-down economics, more student debt and less progress in America,” said Lazar. “It is my understanding that he drew (less) students to his speech. The contrast between these two candidates could not be more stark.”