Brown-Mandel Ohio Senate race will be brutal referendum on Trumpism
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CLEVELAND — The upcoming 2018 Ohio U.S. Senate grudge match between incumbent Democrat Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSherrod Brown says he's 'not actively considering' running for president Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens MORE and Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel is shaping up as a barnburner on several levels.

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On one hand, it is likely to become the most expensive race in the nation. On the other, it promises to fast forward the extinction of Ohio’s Democratic Party.

 

As the poster boy of the state and national party’s progressive wing, Brown is clearly in the political cross hairs with major conservative campaign weapons systems targeting him dead center. Already there are rumblings that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Several Yale Law classmates who backed Kavanaugh call for misconduct investigation Freedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign MORE’s 2016 campaign manager Kellyanne Conway may be leading an outside group to help defeat Brown.

Since losing to Brown in 2012 by 330,000 votes while winning 66 of Ohio’s 88 counties, Mandel has been single-minded in pursuing a rematch.

Back then the baby-faced 34-year-old Cleveland-area Republican was regarded as overly ambitious, much like Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioJudd Gregg: Two ideas whose time has not come Nikki Haley: New York Times ‘knew the facts’ about curtains and still released story March For Our Lives founder leaves group, says he regrets trying to 'embarrass' Rubio MORE, after having been elected State treasurer only two years prior. Now the still-baby-faced Mandel is hoping that six years of seasoning, foggy voter memories, and the new Trumpian political reality will help him vanquish Brown, seen by many on the left as their Progressive White Knight.

Much will depend, however, on Donald Trump’s performance during his first two years and the effect it will have in the mid-term election.

In Ohio, he carried 80 counties and beat Clinton by more than 476,000 votes. In 2012, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Texas coal plant to shut down | Macron rejects trade deals with climate pact outsiders | Vote on park funding bills to miss deadline Obama urges Americans to vote: 'This moment is too important to sit out' Trump doctrine just declared at UN — and it’s called ‘maximum pressure’ MORE defeated Mitt Romney by 166,000 votes, largely because he carried Cuyahoga County, anchored by Cleveland, by 250,000 votes.

OhioToday, Ohio has only five Democrats in Congress, four in the U.S. House and Brown in the Senate. The generally 50/50 swing state has changed a lot — largely due to gerrymandering — since Democrats John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum roamed the Senate.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate panel eyes vote on parks funding bills after key deadline Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens MORE’s thrashing of Ted Strickland shows the uphill battle Brown may face against Mandel in 2018.

The former unpopular one-term governor won only four counties statewide — Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas and Athens, home of Ohio University. In fact, Strickland failed to win his former Appalachian congressional district and Portman won overwhelmingly by 21 points.

A major debate within Ohio is whether the state has turned red. This year’s election map clearly shows it has with only the metropolitan areas around Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo showing support for Democrats. What’s more, the Ohio statehouse is dominated by a Republican legislature, the largest majorities either party has had since the state went to a 33-seat Senate and 99-seat House.

In the 2017-18 session, there will be 66 Republicans, and it takes 50 votes to pass a bill. In the state Senate there will be 24 Republicans and it takes only 17 to pass a bill.

Oh, and then there’s Gov. John Kasich, who is term limited and looking for his next act.

For Mandel to take advantage of the Trumpian head winds and Ohio’s reddening hue, he may need to change his tune.

On paper, the twice-elected State treasurer’s personal narrative — a U.S. Marine/Iraq War non-com intelligence specialist, state representative, two-time Ohio State student body president, married to a scion of a prominent Cleveland Jewish family— is a Republican dream candidate.

His Tea Party / pro-life / pro-gun / pro-America / pro-Israel / pro-military / anti-Obamacare / climate-change skeptic / pro-Keystone / anti-NAFTA / pro-coal positions seem tailor-made for the Trump era.

But Mandel’s missteps during the 2012 campaign cost him with voters. His “casual relationship with the truth,” as fact-checkers called it, hurt him with Ohio’s voters.

In some ways, Mandel foreshadowed Trump’s problem with “truthiness.”

When he was called out on his untruths, Mandel consistently doubled down, just like Trump. That’s one main reason why not one single major Ohio newspaper endorsed him. Even the more than $60 million spent by outside groups in 2012, including Crossroads GPS, attacking Brown and outspending the incumbent by five-to-one, wasn’t enough to overcome Mandel’s self-inflicted tone-deaf wounds.

Adding insult to injury was the New York branch of his wife’s high-profile family taking out a full-page ad in Cleveland’s Jewish weekly denouncing him.

Bucking Kasich, Mandel was the lone elected Republican state official that publically endorsed Trump. By hitching his wagon to the Trump train, Mandel is pinning his political future to a peculiar politician whose low approval ratings may not improve over the next two years, especially if the Ohio economy doesn’t improve.

This time the Brown-Mandel rematch means much more to many more groups. For progressives, it may be seen as a last stand against Trumpian America. It’s expected that Brown will play a large role in opposing Trump’s nominees for key cabinet posts, particularly Education secretary. He has long enjoyed strong support of teachers’ unions and other public employee unions.

Mary Anne Sharkey, former Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial director and communications director for Gov. Bob Taft, noted to me that Brown:

“is much like Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersPoll: Gillum leads DeSantis by 5 points in Florida governor race Sanders: Kavanaugh accusers 'have risked their lives to come forward' Helping citizens unite in post-Citizens United America MORE in his political outlook but admittedly does not have the same ability to attract large and adoring young crowds.”

But the well-respected political observer believes Brown “appears to be in good shape for winning another term of office.” One big reason, Sharkey says, is that Brown and Trump “intersect on the issue of fair trade.”

Concludes Sharkey:

“Sherrod Brown is loved in blue-collar Ohio where Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSenate panel subpoenas Roger Stone associate for Russia probe Webb: The new mob: Anti-American Dems Clinton to hold fundraiser for Menendez in NJ next month MORE failed spectacularly and lost her chance of being the first woman president.

"One thing you will not hear Brown say is that these blue-collar voters are racists or misogynists because they are his voters. Brown should hold the blue-collar vote together in his reelection proving to be a reliable vote on their issues.”

A few years ago, to prove his point, Brown and his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winner Connie Schultz, moved into a blue-collar Cleveland neighborhood. Mandel, on the other hand, lives in the affluent east-side suburb of Beachwood.

There couldn’t be a sharper contrast between the two candidates, which will make this an uber race to watch.

David Eden is a writer in Cleveland.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.