Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ohio U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Ohio U.S. Senate

August 30, 2012
68 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

Needless to say, I hope that my classification of this race is merely a case of caution. There have been recent indications that this race has gotten much closer and could be considered a Tossup, but I would still need to see some more evidence to believe the incumbent Democrat is in critical political condition. I hope to see that.

For a dozen years, the Buckeye State was dominated by the GOP as no Democrat (with the exception of Bill Clinton in 1996) won a statewide election. That changed though in 2006 as Republicans had a bad year nationally, and due to problems specifically related to the party in Ohio, Democrats won most races in the state. That included the relatively easy election of Democrat Sherrod Brown to the U.S. Senate over a GOP incumbent. The Democrat momentum continued in 2008 but by 2010, Republicans were back on the upswing and swept all statewide contests. What happens in Ohio in 2012 will truly be interesting, as the Presidential candidate who wins the battleground state is likely to be the person who wins the election. The Senate race is sort of the undercard there, but could also be quite important in determining which party controls the Senate.

Brown is a liberal populist who is a favorite of labor unions, and is also known for somewhat of a ruffled appearance. His Republican opponent easily captured his party's nomination back in a March primary, setting up what is officially the longest lasting general election of the campaign cycle.

Josh Mandel is the soon to be 35 year old State Treasurer of Ohio, who happens to look about 10 years younger than his actual age. The Jewish Republican is considered one of the more intriguing rising stars in the GOP.  He served eight years in the Marine Corps and is an Iraqi War vet, during which time he was elected to the Ohio State House. Quickly moving up the political ladder, he won his statewide election for Treasurer in 2010,and almost immediately began running for the Senate, in a move that some might classify as overly ambition. His opponent, Brown, has a similar biography of being elected to statewide office in Ohio as a very young man, as Brown was just 30 when he was elected Secretary of State in 1982. He lost a bid for a third term in 1990, before rebounding two years later with a U.S.House career that lasted until his Senate election.

While Mandel is highly touted, Brown has been considered at least a slight favorite to hold his seat throughout, due to incumbency and a financial campaign edge. Many early polls showed the incumbent leading his young GOP challenger by a considerable double digit margin, but there was always the expectation that the race would tighten up. The month of August has brought a Quinnipiac University poll, in which Brown continues to hold a lead and is ahead 48-41. Three other polls from the same month though show basically a tied race with both candidates in the mid forties. If those polls are backed up by others as we move to September, this race has definitely reached Tossup status.

For now, my unfortunate hunch is that Brown has a bit of an edge. He may not be the strongest statewide politician in Ohio himself and Mandel probably has a tremendous upside to his political career, but I wonder if he is going to come across as too young looking and unfairly not up to the task of the Senate in the eyes of some undecided voters. If that happens, and Mandel falls short, it would probably be fair to say that he picked the wrong race to run at the wrong time, so soon after first starting a promising stint as State Treasurer. One way or another, this is unlikely to be Mandel's final race.  The Republican nominee appears to be campaigning in Ohio this week, instead of attending the GOP convention. I can understand that, but it might have been helpful to him to have gotten some kind of speaking slot, with the potential to raise a good deal of campaign money from people across the country for this race.

The fact that Ohio will be so hotly contested for its Presidential electoral votes, will definitely have a down ballot on the Senate race. In many ways, the fates of the Barack Obama and Sherrod Brown team are tied together against the Mitt Romney and Josh Mandel team. All things considered though, Brown might be better equipped to hang on in the end than Obama is in Ohio.

Mandel campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 13 D, 9 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 43 D, 46 R