Two major battles are taking shape in the key swing state of Ohio in 2018. Those battles will almost certainly later affect a run for re-election in 2020, if President-Elect Donald Trump chooses to seek a second term.
One race is for the governor’s office. Ohio Gov. John Kasich won’t be seeking a third term because of term limits. Republicans will be tested on this race, as voters often like to swap parties after eight years.
Being the voice of obstruction is not likely the best tactic after Trump’s election, especially in states where Trump won.
But the biggest prize for Republicans is the U.S. Senate seat in Ohio. It’s up for grabs in 2018, and the occupant is a liberal Democrat whose views may have finally been spotlighted as being out of touch with Buckeye State voters.
That senator is Sherrod Brown, an old-fashioned liberal Democrat who rode a wave into the Senate in 2006, after years of voter frustration with President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.
Brown managed to ride another wave to re-election in 2012 with the help of President Obama’s successful re-election campaign.
Obama beat GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the state, 50.7 percent to 47.7 percent.
That small wave for Obama may have helped sink Ohio’s rising GOP star, Josh Mandel, the state treasurer, who opposed Brown in 2012. Brown got the same winning percentage as Obama, 50.7 percent. Mandel got 44.7 percent of the vote.
But being as popular as Obama in Ohio may no longer be sufficient for Brown.
Trump won Ohio handily, besting Hillary Clinton by 8 percent. Trump’s victory in Ohio and some other swing states has many speculating that Democratic senators are in trouble in those states when the midterm election arrives in 2018.
“It’s clear Sherrod Brown is out of step with Ohio values,” Mandel told reporters on Wednesday when he announced his 2018 run.
Mandel must first face possible primary opponents in the Republican arena. Rep. Pat Tiberi, a Republican, is also considering a bid to unseat Brown, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
But Mandel, 39, is likely the primary favorite. Mandel, the state treasurer, ran a spirited race against Brown in 2012. He is a former Marine who brings with him experience in the Iraq War.
In 2012, Mandel ran as a traditional conservative. Now, he will be adding to that image to match the populist Republicanism of Trump, which did so well in the Rust Belt.
According to the Plain-Dealer, “Mandel has taken more than a few pages from the Trump playbook, making conspicuous efforts recently on Twitter to tie immigration to Islamic terrorism, while criticizing ‘elites’ and ‘political correctness.’ Mandel was quick to blame ‘Radical Islam’ for a Nov. 28 car-and-knife attack at Ohio State University.”
Also helping Mandel in his quest is Brown himself. The Cleveland-area Democrat could be incapable of adjusting to the new reality of Midwestern politics after Trump scored victories in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
Already, Brown has fumed about the Republicans’ delay on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans, who control the Senate, simply postponed hearings and waited out the election.
Brown is angry about that, and suggested the Senate will first have to vote on Garland before they move on to Trump’s court choice.
“[Republicans] stole that Supreme Court seat,” Brown told the Voice of America recently. “They owe an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland. To me, it’s first about that.”
Being the voice of obstruction is not likely the best tactic after Trump’s election, especially in states where Trump won. The voters made clear they are sick of the old ways of Washington, D.C., even if there are old scores both parties want to settle.
It’s not just Ohio, of course.
In 2018, the Democrats have to defend in the Midwest and the Plains States, a smattering of seats that should have senators hesitant to fight Trump — perhaps none more so than Brown.
In short, it’s time to help out or get out.
But Brown is a liberal in the mold of the late Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum. In 2010, the Plain-Dealer reported that Brown finished in a 10-way tie for the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, according to rankings compiled by National Journal.
Brown, for example, made no secret of his alliance with ex-comedian and liberal Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, in a bid to amend the Constitution to restrict campaign speech and donations.
Now the Senate map in 2018 looks great for Republicans, even though the party that holds the White House usually takes big hits in the first or second midterm elections.
Of the 33 Senate seats up in 2018, 23 are held by Democrats and two are held by independents aligned with the Democrats. Only eight seats are held by Republicans, and only two — in Arizona and Nevada — look iffy.
Meanwhile, 10 Democratic seats are held by senators in “ruby red” states that Trump carried, according to Politico.
And perhaps making Democrats most nervous is how Sen. Rob Portman, the Republican junior senator from Ohio, did in his re-election bid in 2016. Portman beat an ex-governor by a bone-crushing 21 points.