The Senate race that would make history started quietly. Incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown, known as a veteran liberal lawmaker, started his campaign for a second term with almost no fanfare. State treasurer and conservative Republican Josh Mandel made his announcement at the Akron Press Club in March with some lines that became standard fare for his stump speeches.
“Right now these partisan politicians in Washington are driving our country off a cliff. Sherrod Brown is behind the steering wheel. We cannot wait another six years to turn this country in a different direction.”
But that formal announcement -- just five days before the March primary -- followed by many months the unofficial launch of Mandel’s campaign – and the big money and nasty claims that became the hallmark of the race.
GOP national hope
Mandel bested five other GOP contenders and won the nomination handily. Then he stepped up the visibility of his campaign by bringing in Republican rock stars such as former presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, rumored to be on Mitt Romney’s short list for vice president.
“We need to change the majority leader – we need to change who’s in charge in the Senate. It does us no good to win the White House if Harry Reid is still in charge in the Senate.”
Mandel also appeared on campaign stops with Romney several times. But some criticized the youthful Mandel, saying he was running a campaign with lots of high-profile help and soundbites, but few ideas.
Meanwhile, Brown took some hits for not stumping enough with the candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket. Brown often said – as he did in January – that his schedule kept him from appearing with President Obama.
“I’m glad to appear with him; it’s nothing like that. It’s just – they’ll make politics out of anything. And I support what he’s trying to do on job creation and will continue to.”
Money and anger
All along, the money was piling up – dollars raised by the candidates, and those spent by outside groups and so-called superPACs. The race was one of those targeted as a win for Republicans that could swing the Senate their way.
The issues in the campaign – the economy, trade, the auto bailout – were touched on in commercials that started out nasty and in some case were arguably false, and only got worse.
“Josh Mandel – he’s become the candidate of the big lie.”
“Sherrod Brown – living by different rules than us.”
Those angry ads set a tone that carried over into the three debates in October between Mandel and Brown. The first was at the City Club of Cleveland, the second a few days later in Columbus.
Mandel: “The folks we’ve hired into our office are qualified professionals, and I believe their record speaks for themselves. (boos) Let’s talk about the record.”
Brown: “He has the nerve and encouraging his friends to ask questions about term limits when he clearly has no regard for any of that. (boos, cheers and applause)”
Mandel: “Senator, you are a liar.”
Brown: “Josh Mandel, as we know, has trouble telling the truth.”
Newspapers back Brown, some reluctantly
Brown ended up with the endorsements of nearly every newspaper in Ohio – some of which backed his opponent, Mike DeWine, when he ran for the Senate in 2006.
Back then, that had been the most expensive U.S. Senate race in Ohio history. But this race dwarfed that. And Mandel had the edge when you added up his own money and that of the outside groups.
Still, though Mandel had been the No. 2 statewide vote getter in 2010, Brown beat him by 326,000 votes. That gave Brown 50 percent of the vote – Mandel had 45percent. And third-party candidate Scott Rupert brought in 5 percent.
On election night, Brown sounded physically spent.
“This race was never about me or my opponent. It was about the veteran in Columbus. It was about the waitress in Waverly. It was about the steelworker in Yorkville, the auto parts worker in Lima, the small businessman in Marietta, the farmer in Waldo.”
The Brown-Mandel contest was the third most expensive Senate race in the country in 2012 – not far behind those in Massachusetts and Virginia, with the candidates and the outside groups spending $76.2 million.