Inquiring minds want to know, can Ohio’s senior senator in Washington remain Ohio’s senior senator in Washington next year if his challenger is Ohio’s term-limited, embattled, self-basting state treasurer who wants to ape Donald Trump’s smashing campaign victory against Hillary Clinton last year?
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who won first term in 2006 by defeating then incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine, and tasted victory again in 2012 by defeating state treasurer Josh Mandel and more than $40 million spent by friends of Mandel against him, is seen by some experts as the favorite to win again.
But Brown won’t have a cakewalk ahead of him in 2018, as political guru Larry Sabato, the main man behind “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, outlined in a piece Thursday handicapping all midterm senate races.
“In Ohio, a rematch between Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) and term-limited state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) seems likely, and Brown is endangered by the state’s strong swing to Trump last year – indeed, Mandel’s hopes rest on the possibility that Ohio is now functionally a clear Republican state at the federal level, as opposed to a swing state with a small GOP lean, as it had been prior to 2016. However, the populist Brown is definitely a better fit for the Buckeye State than Clinton was, and he outperformed Obama’s margin when he defeated Mandel in 2012. Some Republicans are cool on Mandel’s candidacy and believe he is a rather shameless publicity-seeker who never stopped running for Senate after his 2012 loss. Mandel has emulated Trump in several ways, and he outraged many recently by taking the side of pro-Trump Twitter trolls against the Anti-Defamation League (Mandel is Jewish himself). Despite it all, Mandel should be well-funded and he poses a real threat to Brown. There is another notable GOP candidate, Cleveland-area businessman Mike Gibbons. He has no statewide name ID but he has hired credible staffers, some of whom are close to term-limited Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), who has a bad relationship with Mandel. But it’s hard to see Gibbons giving Mandel a real run in a Republican primary.”
Keep in mind that Brown is the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Ohio, a state that’s been reliable red at the state level for decades, as Republicans have controlled the legislature and all statewide offices, with the exception of one four-year period (2006-2010) when Democrats won four of the five seats, since the early 1990s.
Democrats returned to their losing ways, getting shellacked in 2010 and again 2014 when GOP candidates, including Mandel, converted wins into second terms.
Sabato describes Brown as a “populist,” even though he loathes Trump’s populism that plays to the worse fears and stereotypes that helped Trump beat Clinton in the Buckeye State by almost nine points or almost one-half million votes. With a new state GOP leader in Jane Timken, who came to power when Trump used his clout to force Kasich’s hand-picked political bulldozer to step down following his win last year, can Republicans fan the flames of outrage enough to turnout base voters enough to retire Brown from the Senate?
The question for Brown is whether Trumpism will remain virulent enough to incite voters who see Mandel as a lesser version of the Donald to turn out to vote? Or will Democrats, who out number Republicans but who don’t turnout in sufficient numbers in mid-term elections, hear the calling to turnout in numbers sufficient to douse any hopes Mandel has that he can successfully follow the breadcrumbs of hate strewn by the New York billionaire? Trump, after nearly eight months in the White House, is experiencing job approval numbers so low that many wonder whether he can pull another flaming rabbit out of his non-traditional, over the top, jump the shark hat.
For Brown, a second win against Mandel would be exquisitely tantalizing. Even if Brown does clinch a victory, there may be little coattail connection to his win versus the fate of other Democrats who want to win all the open seats being vacated by two-term Republicans like Mandel.