Don’t be too sure Ohio leans Demo­crat

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

When New York’s District 9 went Repub­li­can, Rep. Debbie Wasser­man Schultz, chair­woman of the Demo­cratic National Com­mit­tee, ex­plained that the district, which has been in Demo­cratic hands since 1923, is “a very dif­fi­cult district for Democrats.” By that stan­dard, the en­tire na­tion may go Repub­li­can in 2012.

Democrats hold a 3-seat ma­jor­ity in the U.S. Se­nate. But two-thirds of the con­tested 2012 seats are in Demo­cratic hands. Hav­ing to de­fend so many seats would be chal­leng­ing at any time (funds have to be spread more thinly), but with a pres­i­dent whose ap­proval rat­ings are sink­ing steadily, the prospects for con­tin­ued Demo­cratic dom­i­nance look even worse. Most prog­nos­ti­ca­tors put North Dakota in the likely Repub­li­can pick-up col­umn, while Florida, Michi­gan, New Mex­ico, Mas­sachusetts, Ne­braska, Mis­souri, Vir­ginia, West Vir­ginia and Ne­vada are con­sid­ered tossups. Ohio, where first-term Se­na­tor Sher­rod Brown is seek­ing re-elec­tion, is con­sid­ered a “lean Demo­crat” race. We’ll see.

Brown has won one con­test al­ready: the race to the left. When the National Jour­nal rated U.S. sen­a­tors, Brown was ranked as “most lib­eral,” beat­ing out even avowed So­cial­ist Bernie San­ders for the honor. Brown sup­ported Oba­macare, for ex­am­ple, but only re­luc­tantly be­cause he fa­vored a sin­gle-payer, Cana­dian model.

As in 2000, 2004 and 2008, Ohio is likely to be a key swing state in the pres­i­den­tial con­test, so the se­nate race as­sumes even more im­por­tance.

And that race is shap­ing up to be a clas­sic lib­eral/con­ser­va­tive clash.

Brown’s likely op­po­nent, Josh Man­del, has one thing in com­mon with the sit­ting se­na­tor — both were con­sid­ered too young look­ing when they en­tered pol­i­tics. In 1975, a year af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege, Brown was elected to the Ohio leg­is­la­ture. An­other mem­ber, mis­tak­ing him for a page, gave him a dol­lar and asked him to fetch a cup of cof­fee. Brown has since spent his en­tire ca­reer in pol­i­tics, win­ning the se­nate seat in 2006 — a very bad year for Repub­li­cans.

The story for Josh Man­del is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. He first ran for and won a seat on his town coun­cil when he was 26 — but looked about 16. He was carded ev­ery­where he went.

He has since served two tours in Iraq as a Marine in­tel­li­gence spe­cial­ist — one while a sit­ting mem­ber of the Ohio leg­is­la­ture.

While he still looks much younger than his 33 years, he doesn’t sound it.

Man­del was in­spired to join the Marines out of grat­i­tude to this coun­try. He is the grand­son of Holo­caust sur­vivors. His grand­mother, Fer­nanda, was an Ital­ian Jew who was hid­den by a Catholic fam­ily through­out the war. The bless­ings of lib­erty are not just an ab­strac­tion for Man­del.

Man­del is one of those peo­ple who seems able to squeeze more days into a year than the rest of us. In con­trast to many young men who are still liv­ing with their par­ents af­ter col­lege, Man­del has been a lawyer, a coun­cil­man, a mem­ber of the Ohio leg­is­la­ture, a U.S. Marine, and Ohio’s state trea­surer. He boasts that when he first ran for the Ohio leg­is­la­ture (in a 2-1 Demo­cratic district), he knocked on 19,679 doors, wear­ing out three pairs of shoes. (He hung the shoes on his of­fice wall.) When he swears that no one will out­work him, you be­lieve.

He speaks with en­ergy and philo­soph­i­cal clar­ity, and Ohio’s Repub­li­cans are smit­ten.

As a young coun­cil­man, he helped push through a prop­erty tax re­duc­tion for Lyn­d­hurst, Ohio, the first in his­tory. A believer in free mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism, he was named “Watch­dog of the Trea­sury” by United Con­ser­va­tives of Ohio.

Sher­rod Brown is a big spend­ing lib­eral at an awk­ward mo­ment of per­sis­tently high un­em­ploy­ment (Ohio’s rate matches the na­tion’s at 9.1 per­cent) and wide­spread dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Pres­i­dent Obama.

In a no­table show of strength, Man­del has raised $2.3 mil­lion in the past quar­ter, com­pared with Brown’s $1.5. (Full dis­clo­sure: my hus­band con­trib­uted to Man­del’s cam­paign.)

Brown’s war chest re­mains larger be­cause he’s been rais­ing funds for six years. But Man­del, with the sup­port of Tea Party groups, Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tives in Ohio, is mount­ing a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge.

Mona Charen is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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