Reflecting On The Historic U.S. Senate Campaign

Dec 31, 2012

It was the most expensive and perhaps the most bitter campaign for U.S. Senate in Ohio history – and it featured two starkly different candidates.

In our continuing review of 2012, Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler examines the race between Sherrod Brown and Josh Mandel.

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This race that would make history started quietly. Incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown, long known as a veteran liberal lawmaker, started his campaign for a second term with almost no fanfare. State treasurer and conservative Republican Josh Mandel made his announcement at the Akron Press Club in March with some lines that became standard fare for his stump speeches.
“Right now these partisan politicians in Washington are driving our country off a cliff. Sherrod Brown is behind the steering wheel. We cannot wait another six years to turn this country in a different direction.”

Just five days later, Mandel bested five other GOP contenders and won the nomination handily. But for months, both had been raising big money. Mandel stepped up the visibility of his campaign by bringing in Republican rock stars such as former presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, rumored to be on Mitt Romney’s short list for vice president.
“We need to change the majority leader – we need to change who’s in charge in the Senate. It does us no good to win the White House if Harry Reid is still in charge in the Senate.”

Mandel also appeared with Romney several times. But some criticized Mandel for running a campaign with lots of high-profile help but few ideas. Meanwhile, Brown took some hits for not stumping enough with the candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket. Brown often said – as he did in January – that his schedule kept him from appearing with President Obama.
“I’m glad to appear with him; it’s nothing like that. It’s just – they’ll make politics out of anything. And I support what he’s trying to do on job creation and will continue to.”

All along, the money was piling up – both the dollars raised by the candidates, and those spent by outside groups and so-called superPACs. The race was one of those targeted as a potential win for Republicans.  The issues in the campaign – the economy, trade, the auto bailout – were briefly touched on in commercials that started out nasty and in some case arguably false, and only got worse.
“Josh Mandel – he’s become the candidate of the big lie.”
“Sherrod Brown – living by different rules than us.”

Those angry ads set a tone that carried over into the three debates in October between Mandel and Brown. The first was at the City Club of Cleveland, the second a few days later in Columbus.
Mandel: “The folks we’ve hired into our office are qualified professionals, and I believe their record speaks for themselves. (boos) Let’s talk about the record.”
Brown: “He has the nerve and encouraging his friends to ask questions about term limits when he clearly has no regard for any of that. (boos, cheers and applause)”
Mandel: “Senator, you are a liar.”
Brown: “Josh Mandel, as we know, has trouble telling the truth.”

Brown ended up getting endorsed by nearly every newspaper in Ohio – some of which declined to back him when he ran in 2006, in what had been the most expensive US Senate race in Ohio history. Though Mandel had been the number-two statewide vote getter for the Republicans in 2010, Brown beat him by 326,000 votes. But Brown had just 50% of the vote – Mandel had 45%, and third-party candidate Scott Rupert brought in 5%. On election night, Brown sounded physically spent.
“This race was never about me or my opponent. It was about the veteran in Columbus. It was about the waitress in Waverly. It was about the steelworker in Yorkville, the auto parts worker in Lima, the small businessman in Marietta, the farmer in Waldo.”

The Brown-Mandel contest was the third most expensive Senate race in the country in 2012 – not far behind those in Massachusetts and Virginia, with the candidates and the outside groups spending $76.2 million.