Senate race gets personal for Sherrod Brown
Brendan Dugan is a typical 20-year-old college student. He attends classes at John Carroll University, participates in intramural athletics, and has an interest in politics and the upcoming elections.
Now, that last part may not be typical, but it is becoming more common on college campuses. Why? The answer is jobs.
“As a student in the Cleveland area, I want to have a sense of relief, knowing there will be job opportunities after graduation,” he said in an interview.
Dugan is experiencing what many people throughout Ohio have said concerns them too: worry about dwindling job opportunities and financial security.
This has been a staple in the Senate race between incumbent U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and his Republican challenger, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. That is, this issue has sometimes crept in between the personal attacks and misleading statements that have been prevalent throughout this campaign.
The 2012 Ohio senatorial campaign has reached a new landmark in the world of fact-checking. Sadie Weiner, press secretary for Brown, says that Mandel “has more ‘Pants on Fire’ ratings from PolitiFact than any candidate in Ohio’s history as far as we know.” Of course, PolitiFact is only a few years old: it was founded in 2007 and has only covered Ohio elections since 2010. In 2009 PolitiFact won a Pulitzer Prize for its work attempting to keep public debate honest.
Mandel has received six “Pants on Fire” ratings, courtesy of PolitiFact Ohio, for such claims as one that Brown sent jobs and billions of tax dollars overseas. He also has claimed that Brown is a left-wing extremist when it comes to the environment and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Justin Barasky, communications director for Brown, said in an interview that Mandel’s misrepresentation is probably the most challenging part of this campaign and sets it apart from campaigns Barasky has been involved with in the past.
“I’ve run against opponents who I thought were wrong or just crazy, but I thought they just believed what they believed. Josh [Mandel] is almost pathological in his ability to not tell the truth in spite of it all.”
What also sets this campaign apart is the funding from outside groups, unconnected to candidates but often supporting them, made legal by the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. Many of these outside groups, known as super PACs, do not disclose the sources of their funding. Brown talked in a telephone interview about the figures for this spending and why he believes it is so unprecedented.
“The outside interests have spent $21 million to boost my opponent and attack me with false, misleading ads. They are trying to buy a senator who will do their bidding and they know I will never be that senator.”
While this is a lot for a campaign to handle, there is a clear system that the Brown campaign has developed when dealing with misleading statements and ads from Mandel. Connie Schultz, Brown’s wife and a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, described the process.
“When [Mandel] has a false claim we are out within hours,” Schultz said in a telephone interview. “If it is really bad we have an ad up in days. You never know what you’re going to have next.”
While television ads play a role, the campaign has found other ways to combat attacks from Mandel. Brown said he believes that the people volunteering for him are making a direct impact.
“The reason we will win this November is because of the grassroots momentum on my side, and I am thankful and proud of all the volunteers spending time making phone calls and knocking on doors to talk about my record of working for all Ohioans.”
“The No. 1 strategy is to make sure everyone knows about the work Sherrod’s been doing,” Barasky says. “For example, he voted for the largest increase in V.A. funding in history, and has a long record of supporting veterans.”
Along with veterans, Barasky said Brown wants voters to be aware of the work he has done for the middle class, such as passing the auto rescue bill. Brown championed this legislation before President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama. According to Barasky, this saved Ohio’s economy from a “crippling collapse.”
It is obvious that the two candidates have different opinions on this issue,
“Mandel called Sherrod un-American to his face, for saving the auto industry. He would have let plants across the state collapse and thousands of jobs would have vanished,” Barasky says.
The Brown campaign also strives to show his consistency. They want people to know he has been consistent in his beliefs, and also has over a 98 percent attendance rating since becoming a senator in 2007, according to PolitiFact. In fact, this year he has not missed one vote.
“If you look at how Sherrod votes and his causes, he is very much in line with the majority of Ohioans. The thing about Sherrod is, he is constantly Sherrod. He doesn’t fluctuate in his views,” Schultz said.
Ultimately, Brown said he wants Ohioans to know that he does not believe his work in the Senate is done.
“We still need to create jobs by boosting manufacturing, leveling the playing field with China, ending incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas, and closing tax loopholes for oil companies and big Wall Street banks. We've made so much progress but there’s still more to be done.”
For students like Dugan, the tone of this election may make voters forget about the real issues. The Brown campaign, however, hopes these issues will be glaring in the minds of voters when they enter their booths on Nov. 6. Barasky, like Dugan, believes that jobs will play an important role in this election.
“Far and away, it’s who do you trust to fight for your job? I believe most Ohioans trust Sherrod to fight for their jobs. He has always been on the side of the workers.”
Ashley Bastock is a communications student at John Carroll University.