This week, after a string of bad news for their Senate candidate in the race to take on Sherrod Brown, Ohio Republicans got desperate. A dark money group linked to the Ohio Republican Party and the campaign of Republican challenger Jim Renacci put up a nasty attack ad based on decades-old court filings to suggest Brown had been physical with his first wife during their contentious 1986 divorce. The coordinated attack came after Ohio media started to report that Renacci’s chances were all but extinguished.
Here’s how it went down:
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was focused on nine key Senate races to maintain control of the chamber. Ohio was not among them.
Then, Thursday evening, Ohio Republican Governor Kasich declined to endorse Renacci on national television.
— JessicaWehrman (@JessicaWehrman) September 12, 2018
By Friday morning, the headlines were brutal. Here’s how it played in the Dayton Daily News:
Then a Daily Caller story appeared. For those unfamiliar, the Daily Caller is TV white nationalist Tucker Carlson’s far-right trash news website that often serves as a platform for conspiracy theories, subtle and not-so-subtle racism and the dissemination of opposition research on Democratic candidates reputable news outlets won’t run. The story “broke” the news of a new “Me Too” group that was running an online video about domestic abuse allegations in Brown’s first marriage.
The idea that this was a group formed to help women and support abuse survivors almost immediately unraveled as Ohio reporters noticed a trail of digital footprints linking the group to Republican operatives that also do work for Ohio Republicans and the Renacci campaign. The private firm behind the attack, GOP operative Brent Buerck’s Majority Strategies, attempted to cover its tracks in real time:
Also, the link in the Daily Caller story now leads to a 404 page: https://t.co/aPxR4Y9vit
— Henry J. Gomez (@HenryJGomez) September 13, 2018
Brent Buerck has a long track record of shady political activities in Ohio. He was fired from a staff job in 2004 by then-House Speaker Larry Householder while the pair were targets of an FBI investigation into the illegal use of campaign contributions.
Once the phony “me too” group’s online ad had become “news”, Ohio Republicans quickly raced to express outrage and call for Brown’s resignation. It was hard to take anyone seriously who pretended there was any news to react to – they knew about this for years and clearly waited until they really needed to deploy the story, using a friendly Republican media firm and news website to disseminate it. The allegations about Brown have been covered by the media many times before–most recently when the Josh Mandel campaign raised the issue in the 2012 campaign. One Dispatch reporter explains that the paper first covered the story in 1989:
And Margaret Mueller tried to make it an issue in her 1992 race against Brown. https://t.co/xQcZTiyvTf
— John Kohlstrand (@JohnKohlstrand) September 14, 2018
The bottom line is this is not a “Me Too” story. The woman at the center of the story — Brown’s ex-wife Larke Recchie — has said repeatedly she does not have a story to tell and hates details of her personal life being used in a political campaign and has asked for it to stop. The Recchie and Brown families remain close and even held a fundraiser together last week.
This is a desperation move by Republicans, sensing the Senate race is out of reach. To some observers, it feels a lot like 2006 when Ken Blackwell’s failing campaign for Governor resorted to invoking the pedophile group NAMBLA in a final bid to overcome the odds and defeat Democrat Ted Strickland for Governor. This effort is equally unlikely to work out well for Republicans.