By DARREL ROWLAND
The Columbus Dispatch
Despite an onslaught of more than $18 million in outside money to knock him from the U.S. Senate, Democrat Sherrod Brown holds a 7-point lead over GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel in a new Ohio Newspaper Organization Poll.
Brown leads Mandel 52 percent to 45 percent among likely voters statewide.
In Northeast Ohio, where they both are from and a traditionally strong Democratic area, Brown has a commanding 20-percentage-point lead over Mandel: 58 percent to 38 percent.
The Ohio Newspaper Organization consists of the state’s eight largest newspapers, including The Vindicator. In addition to Brown’s lead in Northeast Ohio, he also has a 14-point advantage with women.
“Sherrod Brown is a really smart guy,” said Mary Mynatt, 61, a retired state employee from Grove City. “I think he does a good job in Congress.
“I just have to contrast him with his opponent, who seems to be politically motivated. [Mandel’s] ads just drive me crazy. [Mandel is] kind of full of himself. He’s wet behind the ears; he kind of reminds me of a little squawky bird.”
But Melissa Love of Cortland, a self-described conservative who works as a customer-service representative, finds Brown to be “too liberal for me. Mandel is a serviceman; he served our country, he has conservative views he believes in. I don’t have as strong views about [Mandel] because I don’t know much about him. I don’t like Sherrod Brown because of his voting record.”
The huge influx of “dark money” — so dubbed because most of the donors are secret — from outside groups is helping to muddy the possible outcome.
“The Brown-Mandel race may turn out to be one of the harder races to handicap this fall,” said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, which conducted the poll.
“The saturation of Ohio with presidential campaign ads has made it very difficult for the U.S. Senate candidates to get their messages to voters, and voter patience with campaign ads is dwindling. Name recognition, incumbency, and funding from outside groups against both candidates may factor in to how the race unfolds in the last month and-a-half of the campaign.”
Independent voters favor Brown by a narrow margin in the most recent poll, but this group has the potential to shift back and forth between candidates right up to election day.
Although Gov. John Kasich does not face re-election for another two years, Ohio voters are revising early opinions of the Republican who last year supported the unpopular Senate Bill 5, which would have reduced public-employee collective- bargaining rights.
He now wins approval from 52 percent of Ohioans for his job performance, while 41 percent disapprove.
In Northeast Ohio, 48 percent of those polled approve of the governor’s job performance compared with 44 percent who disapprove.
“At first I thought he was a rebel without a cause. He was a real storm trooper when he got in there,” said telemarketer Linda Rae Brown, 65, of Cleveland.
“Now I like the guy. At first I thought he was a bit of a bully, but now I like him. He’s getting things done.”
Marlin Griffin, 40, a Democrat from Gallipolis who works at AEP’s Gavin Power Plant, is no fan of Kasich.
“All Republican governors try to, first thing off the bat, bully folks, and I don’t think that’s how politics should be done,” Griffin said. “You should work across the aisle. I’m not saying your values should change, but you should have the decency to work across the aisle with folks.”
But he said the governor has toned down since last year and helped the state avoid debt.
“I don’t know how long that’s going to last,” Griffin said. “We’ll see after this election if he’s going to try to go after unions or teachers or someone else.”
Another who has changed his position is Robert G. Merkle, 82, of Springfield, a retired physicist and aerospace engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
“I didn’t vote for him but I’ve been surprised because I thought they would hack away at the benefits for the poor and disabled because that’s usually what happens,” Merkle said.
“Instead, he cut the state aid to the cities and the schools. If he wants to shrink government, that’s a good thing because all these matching funds local governments tend to regard as free money. And they use it for bigger and larger programs. Kasich is one who says we should shrink government.”
But the governor’s push to keep roughly half-a-billion dollars in the state’s rainy-day fund instead of using it to restore state budget cuts to schools and other local governments is less popular.
Fifty-four percent want the money used to patch the budget reductions, with 39 percent content to let the money stay in the state fund.
“He cut a lot of programs to get there [balancing the state budget] and now people are suffering – what is he going to with that 500 million? Is he going to put it out there to help people?” Griffin wondered.
The also poll asked voters about state Issue 2 — which would revamp the way Ohio’s congressional and legislative districts are drawn — and Kasich’s proposal to increase fees on oil and gas drilling and use the revenue to reduce Ohioans’ state income taxes.
However, too few people knew about either proposal to provide meaningful results: 54 percent said they had heard “nothing at all” about the Kasich proposal, while 35 percent said the same about Issue 2, whose ballot language was significantly changed this month.
Contributor: David Skolnick of The Vindicator