Deirdre Shesgreen reports:
Sen. Sherrod Brown won a second term to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday – fending off a hard-charging, well-funded GOP challenger and more than $30 million in withering attack ads from outside groups in one of the most expensive and closely watched match-ups in the country.
“Today in Ohio, the middle of America, the middle class won,” a jubilant Brown told supporters gathered at the Hilton in downtown Columbus, where the Ohio Democratic Party held its election night celebration.
Brown said the race was “never about me” but about veterans, steelworkers and other hard-working Ohioans who he promised to fight for in Washington.Republican challenger Josh Mandel, the state treasurer, congratulated Brown about 11 p.m., adding, “I respect him as a leader. … It was a David versus Goliath battle.”
Brown’s voice was even more raspy than usual, barely audible over the crowd, which interrupted him with chants of “Sherrod, Sherrod, Sherrod.”
Supporters waved placards with a thick red line through the number $40 million – the amount outside groups spent against Brown in the race, which includes about $30 million in ads and $10 million on billboards, literature and other campaign items.
Brown eventually ceded the microphone to his wife, Connie Schultz, to finish reading his speech.
“They spent more money against Sherrod Brown than any Senate candidate in the history of the United States,” Schultz said of the outside groups. But “these groups they don’t know Ohio.
“They didn’t know that we had tens of thousands of volunteers,” she said. “They didn’t know that Ohioans could not be bought.”
Brown’s victory in Ohio – along with other Democratic wins in Missouri, Virginia and elsewhere – means that Democrats will keep control of the Senate come January. So Brown will return to Washington as part of a triumphant majority, not a vanquished minority.
Brown’s comfortable margin on Tuesday night belied a bruising, expensive and nationally watched race that began nearly two years ago. In the process, Ohioans were subjected to a dizzying 12,000 TV ads trying to influence their vote in the race, and the two candidates shattered spending records.
Brown raised more than $22 million and he had spent nearly $20 million of that as of mid-October, according to the most recent fundraising data.
Mandel raised more than $16 million and had spent nearly $13 million.
Their combined tab – $32 million – made Ohio the fifth most expensive Senate race in the country.
Outside groups also flooded the Buckeye State with more than $40 million, the highest tally of any Senate race this election season.
Most of that campaign cash went to fund blistering TV ads against Brown – with groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS, the conservative outfit affiliated with Karl Rove, heavily targeting the incumbent Democrat starting in March 2011.
National Republicans set their sights on Brown early, seeing him as a vulnerable incumbent and seeing his Ohio race as a two-for-one proposition. Crossroads and other groups launched ads linking Brown to President Barack Obama or to president’s key proposals, such as health care reform, thus painting both in a negative light in this critical battleground state.
Mandel formally joined the fray in April 2011, winning the backing of the GOP establishment and proving an instant fundraising phenomenon.
A Marine Corps veteran, Mandel highlighted his two stints as an Iraq and tore into Brown’s liberal Senate voting record.
Brown began the campaign with a double-digit lead in most polls, but Mandel and the GOP-allied outside groups steadily chipped away at that advantage, bringing the GOP challenger within striking distance. But Mandel never took the lead in any public polls and seemed to lose momentum in the final stretch.
David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron, said the outside spending made the race competitive, softening Brown up and bolstering Mandel.
But it wasn’t enough to erase the GOP contender’s shortcomings, Cohen said.
“He’s got a great resume, but he was just not ready for prime time,” Cohen said, “and money couldn’t overcome that.”
The race was a study in contrasts from the get-go.
Brown is an unabashed liberal who spent his first six years in the Senate pushing for health care reform, a crack down on Wall Street and worker protections in trade agreements.
He made his support for the federal auto bailout a centerpiece of his campaign – saying it showed his willingness to go to the mat to protect Ohio jobs and working-class families.
Mandel is a rock-ribbed conservative who embraced the national GOP message of smaller government, lower taxes and fewer regulations in his bid to unseat Brown.
But he wavered on the auto bailout, seeming hesitant to take a firm position on that and several other issues.
Early in the campaign, Brown aggressively attacked Mandel as an absentee treasurer who was driven more by ambition than by conviction. Mandel’s campaign also went for the jugular right from the start, labeling Brown as an out-of-touch liberal, too extreme for Ohio and too beholden to Obama.
“This race was the nastiest race that I’ve ever observed,” said Cohen.
It was clear, he said, that the two candidates “despised each other on a personal level and just in terms of what they stand for.”
That became clear in all three slugfests – called debates – between the two.
Both often ignored questions posed by panels of journalists. In the second debate, Mandel called Brown a liar.
Mandel will return to the treasurer’s office, where he has two years remaining in his term.
One of the criticisms Brown had levied at Mandel was that he promised to finish his first term before running for another office.
Within months of being sworn in, however, Mandel launched his Senate campaign. Brown and others also pointed out that Mandel spent just three years on the Lyndhurst city council and two terms in the Ohio House before running for statewide office.