Sherrod Brown Beats Back Big Money
DiNovella, Elizabeth, The Progressive
On a hot July Sunday afternoon, more than 100 people show up for a canvas kickoff event at the Montgomery County Democratic Party headquarters in Dayton, Ohio. There is a definite buzz in the air since the arrival of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown.
After saying the Pledge of Allegiance, a multiracial crowd of burly union men in Teamster shirts, grandmothers with strollers, young women with pixie haircuts in T-shirts saying "Women Matter," middle-aged folks dressed in their Sunday best, and veterans of old wars and newer ones, wait in the air conditioning for their Senator to speak.
"Thanks for coming out on a Sunday afternoon like this. It's a nice day and there's other stuff you could be doing," Brown says. "Thanks for your activism. Thanks for standing up. Thanks for your willingness to go door to door, and for all the things you are doing to fight back against the forces, well, I won't say the forces of evil"--the crowd laughs--"but whatever those $10 million represent."
The $10 million figure Brown refers to is the massive amount of out-of-state cash that conservative groups are pouring into the Ohio Senate race, in support of his opponent, thirty-five-year-old Josh Mandel. The fifty-nine-year-old Brown is one of the most liberal Senators in Congress--and in a swing state, no less. Picking him off would be quite the trophy on Karl Rove's mantle.
Rove's nonprofit, Crossroads GPS, flooded the airwaves this summer with attack ads against Brown, and the group plans to spend an additional $6.7 million in ads for the final five weeks of the race.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is gunning for Brown, too. It aired ads criticizing the Senator for supposed anti-business votes. "We are being outspent five to one. I can live with that as long as we do work at the grassroots," Brown tells his supporters.
Both Rove's Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are nonprofit groups that can raise unlimited amounts of cash and do not have to reveal who their donors are. They are not allowed to coordinate their activities with candidates or official campaign committees but they do talk amongst themselves. Crossroads and the Chamber air the negative ads while groups such as the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity handle polling and on-the-ground work.
By August, conservative groups had spent more than $15 million against Brown, dwarfing the amount of money Mandel's campaign has spent. "The only reason this is even worth your time to come out here and cover it is because of the money," Brown tells me. "If they weren't spending this money, this wouldn't be a race."
The negative ads paid off early: Brown's lead dwindled from double digits in January to within the polls' margins of error by early summer. Yet as autumn approached, Brown was on an upswing.
Brown and Mandel are stark contrasts. Brown graduated from Yale and first ran for office at the tender age of twenty-one, winning a seat as a state rep from Mansfield, outside of Cleveland. He served as Ohio's secretary of state and logged six terms in Congress before winning the Senate seat from Mike DeWine in 2006.
Brown may be best known for his longstanding fight against free trade agreements. "Our nation lost more than five million manufacturing jobs, a third of our manufacturing workforce. Sixty thousand plants closed" in the last decade, he says. "It's not entirely because of trade law and tax law, but a big part of it is."
He wrote a book about it, Myths of Free Trade, and made waves this summer for pushing U.S.A. Olympic uniforms to be made in the United States. "The Olympics thing was a symbol, but it was more than symbolism," he says. "Many large corporations in the last twenty years have decided that their business plan is to shut down manufacturing in Dayton and Toledo, and move it to Wuhan and Shenzhen. And then they sell products back into the United States. …