Ohio Senate Race Draws Most Outside Cash as Brown Fights for Job

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s bid for re-election in Ohio, a race that may decide the nation’s balance of power, has prompted what Democrats say is the most spending by outside groups supporting a Republican for Senate.

Interests including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $2.8 million on television ads last year, more than against any other Democratic Senate candidate, according to the Ohio Democratic Party. Ohio, recovering after losing more jobs in the past decade than any state beside Michigan, may also decide whether President Barack Obama gets a second term, said Kevin DeWine, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.

“There’s an intersection of a battleground state for president and battleground state for control of U.S. Senate,” DeWine said in a telephone interview from Columbus. “You’re going to see third-party groups from all across the country spend enormous amounts of money here.”

The Senate race is expected to pit Brown, a 59-year-old Democrat tied in the National Journal’s 2009 and 2010 rankings as the “most liberal senator,” against state Treasurer Josh Mandel, a 34-year-old former Marine elected in 2010 who faces four other candidates in a March 6 primary.

Keeping Control

Brown says no senator has worked harder for the middle class and jobs. Mandel and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce call Brown’s votes, including his support of Obama’s health-care law, a “job-killing” record.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent in November from 9 percent in October, compared with a national 8.7 percent. The state ranked 10th in its economic recovery in the third quarter of 2011 compared with the previous year, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States.

In 2008, Obama carried Ohio with 51.5 percent of the vote. If he wins again this year, Republicans must pick up four Senate seats to guarantee control because the vice president can break a tie.

The more unsettled the race in Ohio, the nation’s seventh-most-populous state, the worse the Democrats’ prospects, said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

“If Sherrod Brown loses re-election, it’s tough to see Democrats in control of the Senate,” Gonzales said in a telephone interview from Washington. Rothenberg lists races in Ohio, Florida, New Mexico and Wisconsin in the “Toss-up/Tilt Democratic” category.

‘Critical Priority’

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business-lobbying group, ran a television ad in November highlighting what it called Brown’s “tax-raising, job-killing record.” Other organizations that have advertised in Ohio include Crossroads GPS, a group established with help from Karl Rove, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party.

The Ohio race is “a critical priority,” said Rob Engstrom, national political director for the chamber. He declined to say how much is being spent there, calling it a “sizable and significant investment.”

Brown had a 9 percent record on chamber voting positions in 2010, and there’s a “clear and compelling difference” between Brown and Mandel on issues including energy and health care, Engstrom said in a telephone interview from Washington.

Reverse Polarity

“The issues that the new Congress will deal with in 2013 will fundamentally shape what the American recovery looks like,” Engstrom said. It’s as though Brown “looks at what the business community’s priorities are and votes the opposite way every time,” he said.

The state’s top employer is Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s biggest retailer, and its largest manufacturer is Procter & Gamble Co., the world’s largest consumer-products maker, according to a September report by the Ohio Department of Development.

Brown, a former U.S. House member elected to the Senate in 2006, points to more than 200 roundtables he has held and efforts to pass his Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act to “crack down on China’s currency manipulation” as ways he has tried to help companies compete and create jobs.

“Companies, particularly small manufacturers, know that there’s no stronger voice for not just jobs, but for manufacturing,” Brown said in an interview last week at an event supporting his bill at Harco Manufacturing in Moraine. The plant outside Dayton makes brake-hose assemblies and is near a shuttered General Motors Co. complex that Brown said he is trying to help “reindustrialize.”

Job Hopping

Brown has established himself as a populist in the mold of Howard Metzenbaum, the former Ohio senator who championed liberal causes, said Dale Butland, a Columbus Democratic strategist.

Mandel is “not ready for prime time,” Butland said in a telephone interview. He is running after taking office last year as treasurer and serving in the Ohio House of Representatives since 2006.

“People can look at Josh Mandel and look at the way he has jumped from office to office in a very short period of time and think to themselves, ‘My God, this guy was born with a filing fee in his hand,’” Butland said.

Mandel said he’s proud of his record, which includes Fitch Ratings affirming the highest grade of F1+ for about $650.7 million in adjustable-rate Ohio general-obligation bonds in November. He called Brown “one of the most hyperpartisan politicians in the entire country.”

Money and Love

“Ohioans are sick of partisanship and want new leaders with fresh ideas who can rise above party politics,” Mandel said in a telephone interview.

Mandel raised more money than Brown in the second and third quarters last year and had $3.26 million on hand as of Sept. 30, compared with $4.19 million for Brown, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Still, Brown led Mandel 49 percent to 34 percent in an Oct. 26 poll by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University.

The senator had 50 percent job approval compared with 43 percent for Obama and 36 percent for Republican Governor John Kasich in a separate Quinnipiac survey released that week.

“Republicans have not been able to make Sherrod Brown a bad guy in the eyes of non-Republican voters,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the school’s Polling Institute, said in a telephone interview.

Brown’s fate may hinge on Obama’s -- and both Ohio races may be critical, said John Green, a political-science professor at the University of Akron.

“Ohio doesn’t need any help being important, but it may be especially important this year,” he said in a telephone interview.

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