I met with a representative from Sherrod Brown’s campaign last Thursday evening. They’re starting early because they anticipate a tough race. I appreciate that she contacted me, and allowed me to play expert on my little neck of the woods. I hope I was helpful. I have all sorts of directives I must deliver, as we all do, here at Balloon Juice. She was able to eat dinner while I was haranguing her and I suspect she works constantly, so that’s good. Not a complete waste of time for her.
First, some background on Sherrod Brown and the state of the race:
Brown is a liberal populist, and has been his entire career in Congress. From speaking with local people here, I know he emphasizes trade issues and middle class concerns when he meets with them. That’s a good fit for this county, because the median income is 32k and we (still, barely) have a manufacturing-based local economy. My personal feeling is that Brown’s long commitment to those issues puts him in a good position in 2012. He didn’t change. The county came around to his way of thinking:
Rep. Sherrod Brown became the first Ohio Democrat elected to the Senate since 1992. He had vowed to campaign as a progressive and not move to the center, confident that voters dissatisfied with the economy and Republican leadership would respond.
In defeating two-term incumbent Mike DeWine (R), Brown emphasized the frustrations of the middle class. He criticized free-trade agreements and accused DeWine of doing the bidding of big business on issues of health care and energy policy. Brown, who voted against the Iraq war and the USA Patriot Act, charged that DeWine was ineffective on the Senate intelligence committee.
Brown, 54, was first elected to the Ohio legislature at age 21, straight from Yale. A seven-term member of Congress, he says the Senate is his final stop. During the campaign, he crisscrossed the state with his wife, Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
I have gotten very good feedback on Brown’s attention to constituent services. We have a local manufacturer who does his own DC lobbying: he or his wife lobby on trade issues that are specific to their family business. They both told me that Brown and his staff were well prepared when they arrived, had clearly researched their company and the specific trade issues that apply to their company. They were impressed. They compared Brown favorably to Voinovich, and they voted for and supported Voinovich. They felt Brown was more responsive to their concerns than Voinovich was, and more knowledgeable about their business.
The top-tier challenger to Brown is Mandel. Mandel is currently the Treasurer of the state of Ohio. Mandel is raising a lot of money.
When northern Ohio businessman Benjamin Suarez makes a big campaign contribution, few people are surprised. He owns a direct marketing company that does $100 million annually in sales, and he has a history of giving to Republicans. But in the current election cycle, a large number of his employees and their wives — many of whom have never before given to federal campaigns — have contributed to two specific congressional candidates: Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R., Wadsworth), who represents Ohio’s 16th District
The company’s spokesman, Lauren Capo, said the company did not reimburse employees or provide money for the contributions, though she later emphasized that she couldn’t “speak on the behalf of anyone, other than our brand and products.” Federal campaign finance law prohibits a corporation from providing bonuses or salary increases to employees to reimburse them for political contributions. Among the employees who gave, many of them are managers, directors, or executives, according to federal election filings. Some of them, however, list their occupation as “writer,” “copywriter,” or merely “marketing.” Campaign finance experts said it was especially surprising to see individuals with those titles giving such large amounts.
“A $5,000 contribution from someone who makes $300,000 a year is completely normal,” said Paul S. Ryan, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center in Washington. “A $5,000 campaign contribution from someone who makes $30,000 a year strikes me as unordinary”.
Unordinary. That’s all he’s saying.
What’s interesting about this research on Mandel donors is that Ohio Republicans have a history here . In 2005, there was a huge GOP scandal in Ohio regarding (among other things) “conduits”. Conduits are people who make a donation and then are reimbursed by another party for that donation. The Toledo Blade is not alleging that these generous donations going to Mandel are illegal or improper. They’re simply raising the question of why someone who makes (perhaps!) 30k a year might donate 5k to a GOP Senate primary race. Given the recent GOP history in Ohio, it’s a fair question. It’s unordinary.
In any event, I was able to make suggestions for how Brown might approach a campaign in my little corner of the state. He’s very popular among local Democrats. On the other side, I honestly have not heard any real vitriol directed at him from local Republicans. Right now, this far out, he has strong support from our base (here, anyway) yet has somehow managed to not inflame and enrage local Republicans. Not a bad place to be.