Sherrod Brown says he is focused on his job in the U.S. Senate. Still, it probably hasn’t escaped the Ohio Democrat’s attention that his prospects for getting elected to a third term next year are looking, well, pretty good. In terms of voter interest, it is early, but not for organizing and fundraising. In a big, diverse state such as Ohio, the top campaigns are multi-year slogs. That’s why Brown named his campaign manager, veteran Justin Barasky, in January.
One reason for positive prospects is that Brown is well positioned to take advantage of any tide in the mid-term elections, which usually runs against the party that holds the presidency. Another is that the Republicans could have an expensive, divisive primary pitting Gov. John Kasich’s wing of the party against the Trumpistas.
Let’s take them one at a time.
While a recent Baldwin-Wallace University poll showed that 94 percent of Ohio voters who took part in the November election (which Donald Trump won here by 8 percentage points) would not change how they voted, gravity will eventually exert its force. A new Gallup survey showed Trump’s nationwide approval ratings at 37 percent, lowest since taking office.
As noted in an earlier column, counting on past trends could be dangerous for Ohio Democrats in the wake of Trump’s surprising win in November, especially as the party sorts out its possible candidates for governor.
But Brown is a veteran who has already laid ample groundwork to appeal to working-class Democrats who defected to Trump last year. Even if the anti-Trump tide is weak, the gravelly voiced Brown has polished his own populist persona over two terms in the Senate and eight in the U.S. House. Although he attracts third-party spending against himself from the far right, Brown is a skillful, relentless campaigner who has a strong message.
Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel is back in the race. Mandel lost to Brown by 6 percentage points in 2012 in an expensive, bitter campaign. This time, Mandel could face a Republican primary against Pat Tiberi, a nine-term congressman from a district in central Ohio.
Tiberi has plenty of campaign money (more than $5 million, compared to Brown’s $3.2 million and Mandel’s $1.6 million) and a strong base in a part of the state where he began his career as a former aide to then-U.S. Rep. Kasich, to whom he is still close.
Tiberi didn’t endorse Trump, while Mandel (who supported Marco Rubio) eventually jumped on board. Mandel is now shamelessly Trumpian, promising, among other things, to “drain the swamp” and declaring “war on radical Islam.”
Ironically, Tiberi is bogged down trying to push the Trump agenda through Congress, his committee assignments enmeshing him deeply in health care and tax reform. That could create baggage and sap the time and energy needed to build his first statewide campaign.
For Brown, it looks like a win-win. If Tiberi gets into the race, it is hard to see how Ohio Republicans quickly heal the Kasich-Trump split. If Tiberi stays out, Mandel appears to have taken a huge gamble with his early rhetoric, not to mention damaging himself by appearing recently in outrageously self-promoting public service ads aired by his office at a cost of $1.7 million.
Could Trump once again shock the political system by surging to new heights of popularity in time for the 2018 mid-term elections? Some Republican operatives think it is possible. Anything is possible, but history and Trump’s conduct so far in office are making such a resurgence very unlikely, which means Brown’s re-election chances are better and better.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.