Rich Heldenfels

Incumbent Sherrod Brown continues to lead his challenger, State Treasurer Josh Mandel, in the race for the U.S. Senate, according to a new Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio Newspaper Organization poll. But Brown’s lead is smaller than in a previous poll in September.

Brown leads 51 to 47 percent in the poll conducted by the Institute for Policy Research of the University of Cincinnati for the consortium of major Ohio newspapers, including the Beacon Journal. The September survey had Brown with a seven-point lead.

Brown’s current lead is still outside the poll’s overall margin of error, plus or minus 3.1 percent. But Eric Rademacher, co-director of the institute, said, “I would characterize the race as close overall.”

As with the presidential race, a gender gap is evident in the Ohio poll. A near-tie among men a month ago has turned into a nine-point advantage for Mandel. But Brown’s double-digit lead among women in September is even bigger in the latest poll.

Brown continues to lead among all age groups, but the lead is slight among adults 30 to 45 years old and those over 65.

Both candidates have maintained a grip on at least 90 percent of the voters aligned with their political parties, while independents have moved heavily toward Brown, 54 to 38 percent. Because of the small number of independents in the poll, the margin of error in their results is plus or minus 10 percent.

There have also been noticeable geographic shifts in the poll. Brown leads in Northeast Ohio, but by 11 points versus 20 a month ago, and Northwest Ohio has gone from a large Brown lead to 50-49. On the other hand, Brown has opened up a seven-point lead over Mandel in Central Ohio, where his lead was one point a month ago.

Mandel has a nine-point lead in Southwest Ohio, about the same as the previous poll, but Southeast Ohio has gone from a tie in the previous poll to a 14-point Brown lead. Because of a small polling sample, the margin of error in Southeast Ohio is plus or minus 12 percent.

Brown’s supporters appear to be more firmly connected to their candidate. Fifty-one percent of his supporters “strongly favor” him while only 36 percent of Mandel’s supporters feel that way. Indeed, almost a third of Mandel’s supporters prefer him mainly because they do not like Brown; just over 20 percent of Brown’s likely voters based their choice on their dislike of Mandel.

Major ad spending

Brown-Mandel has been among the most hotly contested battles in the nation. According to a report by the Wesleyan Media Project, almost $9.5 million was spent on Senate advertising in Ohio in just the first three weeks of October, with more than 12,000 ads airing statewide during that period; Ohio ranked fifth among all states in both categories.

Republicans and their supporters targeted Brown as part of a wider effort to take control of the Senate away from the Democrats. Grace Huffman, a retired nurse from Waterville, said she was voting for Mandel in order to give Mitt Romney, her presidential preference, a Republican majority in the Senate.

“They’re the ones holding things up,” she said.

Bruce Meyer, a sales director and Akron resident, is a longtime Brown supporter. Although he is college-educated and a white-collar worker, Meyer said he grew up with blue-collar folks — and Brown fights for them.

“I don’t believe Josh Mandel has any type of experience that would dictate he would be qualified for the job,” said Meyer.

Presidential politics may also be playing a role in voters’ choices. Brown did better than President Obama in the poll, which found Obama and Romney tied. But retired music promoter Don George of Fairview Park called Brown “too Obama for my taste.” Mandel won his vote by offering an opportunity for change — and being younger than Brown. (Mandel is 35, Brown 59).

But youth sometimes equals inexperience, and more than one Brown supporter equated those qualities. Linda Groom, a tutor from Violet Township southeast of Columbus, said she was voting for Romney but not Mandel.

“I don’t think Mandel is experienced enough in local government to go to Washington,” she said. “I just don’t think the integrity is there.”

The poll also asked about the performance of Gov. John Kasich and about several state issues.

Numbers for Kasich

Some 51 percent of the poll respondents said they either strongly or somewhat approved of Kasich as governor, about the same as the 52 percent who said he deserves a second term as governor.

Reaction to casinos in Ohio remains mixed, with 24 percent saying they are mostly good for Ohio, 17 percent saying they are mostly bad and 58 percent considering them a mix of good and bad.

And State Issue 2, which would change how legislative and congressional districts are drawn, remains a mystery for many voters. Where 53 percent said they would vote against it (up from 48 percent in the poll a month ago), 19 percent remain undecided. Only 21 percent of poll respondents said they had heard a lot about the issue, while 54 percent said they had heard a little and 24 percent said they had heard nothing at all,

Rademacher said that any issue campaign would have a tough time getting through to voters “in a year where the airwaves are dominated by presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns that are being so closely watched nationally.”

The poll was conducted between Oct. 18 and 23 among 1,015 likely voters by landline and cellular phone. It was weighted to correct sampling biases from the sex of the respondent and the region of residence. It did not weight based on self-identified party affiliation. However, the earlier poll, taken Sept. 13-18, had proportionately more self-identified Democrats — 48 percent versus 42 percent Republican and 10 percent independent — than the October poll, 47 percent Democrat, 44 percent Republican and 10 percent independent. The customary range in elections is between a five-point Democratic advantage and a five-point Republican one.

Rich Heldenfels can be reached at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.