Washington: Things seemed to be going quite well for Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel. A new Dispatch Poll showed he had surged into a virtual tie with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
Independent organizations affiliated with the Republican Party have poured millions of dollars into TV commercials assailing Brown, who, let’s face it, is the Democrat that Ohio Republicans love to hate.
Added to that is that Brown has cast a few votes in his first term that landed with a thud with Ohio voters. He supplied a key vote to pass the 2010 health law that at least half of Ohio voters absolutely hate.
Instead, with everything going his way, Mandel last month thought it was a good idea to call Brown “un-American.”
Mandel delivered the charge as he and Brown talked about the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler with editors and reporters from the Dispatch. Mandel assailed Brown for “his vote on this legislation,”: charging that it reduced pensions for nonunion salary employees of Delphi, an auto parts company once owned by GM.
“I don’t toss around the word un-American very often, I think it’s a dangerous word to use, but stripping these Delphi employees of their pensions with that vote, was un-American,” Mandel said. “That is not the tradition we have in this country, that just because you don’t belong to a union, you can’t maintain your pension.”
This accusation requires a bit of explaining. First, the Senate never approved a plan to bail out the auto industry because Senate Republicans in late 2008 blocked a request by President George W. Bush to spend $14 billion on General Motors and Chrysler.
A few months later, President Barack Obama used $82 billion from the $700 billion financial rescue package approved on a bipartisan vote by Congress in 2008 to salvage General Motors and Chrysler. During the re-organization of General Motors, the automotive company honored the pensions of the unionized workers at Delphi, but not those of nonunion salaried employees. Brown, however, had nothing to do with GM’s decision.
Mandel’s dubious use of the facts was one thing, but his “un-American” crack privately left some Republicans aghast. They harked back to the 1988 Senate race when Republican George V. Voinovich aired a commercial accusing Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, of being soft on child pornography.
The commercial blew up in Voinovich’s face, and he was drubbed in the November election. Voinovich later made clear that commercial was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made in politics. He learned and never lost another statewide race.
Look, there are a lot of things Mandel can say about Brown, but un-American is not one of them. After all, he is a passionate fan of the Cleveland Indians and a die-hard hater of the New York Yankees. That alone makes him a solid American citizen.
More important, the independent voters who decide elections hate this kind of name-calling. Just ask Karl Rove, the former political adviser to President George W. Bush who now helps operate American Crossroads, an independent organization that is spending millions of dollars to help Republican candidates, including Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
In what was supposed to be an off-the-record briefing to wealthy donors last week at the Republican National Convention, Rove said the key to convincing independents to vote for Romney was to avoid vitriolic attacks against Obama.
According to a Bloomberg News reporter who attended the meeting, Rove said that if Republicans call Obama “a socialist,” independent voters will “defend him.” Instead, Rove said that “if you keep it focused on the facts and adopt a respectful tone, then they’re going to agree with you.”
Not sure that Rove always follows that advice. But perhaps Mandel should listen.
Torry is chief of the Columbus Dispatch Washington bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com.