How a Senate Liberal Found Popularity in Purple Ohio

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Sherrod Brown is one of the more liberal members of Congress. The senior senator from Ohio is a strong supporter of unions and gay rights, and he was a leading voice in Washington to get the public option passed as part of the health care bill.

Yet in Ohio, the perennial battleground, Brown appears to be surging among voters amid his re-election campaign, while President Obama hovers closer to earth with Mitt Romney.

A recent Quinnipiac poll reported that Brown had a 16-point lead over his opponent, Josh Mandel, the Republican state treasurer. A month earlier, that margin was only six points.

Obama topped Romney in the latest Quinnipiac survey in Ohio, too, but by less - 11 points.

One reason that Brown, 59, might be doing so well is that Mandel, 34, has had a rough run in a race that has gained some national attention. Notably, the fact-checking website Politifact has called out Mandel for a handful of statements it rated false - such as saying Brown "gave huge bonuses to executives," and that Brown "cast the deciding vote on the government takeover of health care." Mandel has also drawn scrutiny from the local media after it was reported that he gave inexperienced staff members from his 2010 campaign top jobs in the treasurer's office.

And on Tuesday a photo of Mandel dressed in drag was leaked to a liberal website.

Despite all that, Mandel has stayed in the race with the help of conservative groups spending millions of dollars on advertising in the state.

The Ohio race is noteworthy because of Republicans' desire to oust the liberal Brown and tip the state toward Romney in the presidential election. Joan McLean, an Ohio Wesleyan politics professor who helped get Geraldine Ferraro on the ticket with Walter Mondale in 1984, said that because of Brown's familiarity in the state, it would be possible that he wins his race in November even if Obama loses there.

Where Brown succeeds and where Obama struggles, she said, is with white, working-class men, a bloc with which Obama has consistently had difficulty.

"He's able to relate to them," McLean said of Brown. "Obama still has not reached his form of connecting with voters yet. There's a lot to digest about him for voters."

Brown's opponent has tried to even the score by reviving an accusation from 1986, when the woman to whom Brown was married said in an affidavit that he hit her. "He's a real hypocrite when it comes to issues in respect to domestic violence, and women's issues," Mandel said in a radio interview. "You can probably read about that all over the Internet."

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The problem, McLean said, is that Brown is already known to most voters in Ohio, whereas Mandel, almost half his age, is a virtual unknown; though he was elected state treasurer, other statewide races were more contested and received more attention in 2010.

After the Fourth of July, Obama is taking a bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania, also a swing state. Obama won Ohio in 2008 by five points, and all signs point to the state being as important as ever this year.

One factor that could give an edge to Romney is Rob Portman, the junior senator from Ohio who is rumored to be a top potential running mate not only for his swing-state origins but also for his astonishing plainness and policy-oriented personality.

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