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Ohio Senate Race Closely Watched

Political strategists are dividing up elections around the country as one of two types: the kind that revolve around the incumbent and the kind that revolve around President Bush and national issues. The Mike DeWine - Sherrod Brown race appears to be leaning toward a referendum on President Bush but Ohio has enough issues all on its own. Both candidates have records that gets them branded - Brown as a liberal and DeWine as a conservative but both often like to talk about how moderate they've been on some issues and both claim they are not knee-jerk party loyalists.

In 2000, DeWine backed the more moderate John McCain over George W. Bush. Today, he points out he has also crossed President Bush by voting against oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

Mike DeWine: I think Ohioans are tired of partisan bickering and they want someone with the proven ability to work with the other party.

And Brown says he has worked with Republicans to pass legislation and has also voted against President Clinton.

Sherrod Brown: The balanced budget amendment I supported, President Clinton opposed it. On the line item veto I supported it, President Clinton opposed it. On the trade bill with China, PNTR with China, I opposed it - President Clinton was pushing and lobbying it hard. On major issues I'll stand up to the president of my own party.

Professor Stephen Brooks of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics says even in battleground Ohio, bi-partisanship works for voters.

Stephen Brooks: Looking at the ads and all the screaming and willing that goes on, we might not think that that's not correct but Ohio is really a very moderate state.

Bi-partisanship only goes so far though, and when the candidates' friends are stumping for them, they like to paint opponents in extreme colors. New York Senator Chuck Schumer told a Cleveland audience that DeWine supported President Bush 96% of the time until this election year.

Chuck Schumer: George Bush and his acolyte Mike DeWine just care about the people at the very very top.

The Head of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, came to Cleveland to say Brown's call to get out of Iraq makes him an isolationist, defeatist, blame-America-first Democrat.

Ken Mehlman: The effect will be to convince a lot of pro-defense Democrats that Sherrod Brown, Nancy Pelosi, Ned Lamont (and the) Democratic party is not one they want to be a majority party in the U.S. Senate and representing them in the state of Ohio.

Four years ago the president's popularity was dropping and corporate scandals dominated the front pages. Politicos wondered whether the Republicans would lose their dominance in Congress. Then President Bush suddenly raised the idea of invading Iraq. Enron stories dropped to the business page and soccer moms became security moms. The White House is now rattling sabers over Iran and once again making security the issue. Mike DeWine has joined in.

Mike DeWine: We live in probably the most dangerous time of our entire lifetime.

Polls show Ohioans are largely split on the war in Iraq but they are more united on the troubled economy. Most, according to polls, believe Democrats can do a better job in that department. Sherrod Brown early on jumped on increasing the minimum wage as an issue and argues that the oil and pharmaceutical industries have largely written their own legislation . Kent State Political Science Professor Jason MacDonald says lots of domestic issues have traction in Ohio.

Jason MacDonald: He's holding up the outsourcing of jobs as an issue, and saying 'do you think I as a democrat can do better than Mike DeWine, a republican,' he's holding up the issue of corruption.

Yesterday on WCPN, Brown connected DeWine to our unpopular Republican Governor Bob Taft and argued that the incumbent senator represents everything that has gone wrong the past six years.

Sherrod Brown: We've lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs, another 100,000 do not have health insurance. Our tuition at state universities has almost doubled. More young people 18-35 years old leave Ohio than any state in the country. If people are happy with that then vote for Mike DeWine.

The dropping price of gasoline has taken that issue away from Democrats for the moment. Republican strategist Karl Rove thought illegal immigration would be a wedge issue to favor the GOP but it has not come up much in Ohio. And a poll out yesterday found, Ohioans believe Democrats are at least as good at handling that as Republicans.

Still, Mike DeWine has some advantages - being in the majority party, for one. The senator stood outside a federally-funded project in Cleveland to make a point that he can bring home the bacon.

Mike DeWine: I wanted to get on the Appropriations Committee because that's where the money is. It took me a number of years top get on the Appropriations Committee. I got on the Appropriations Committee.

Enough undecided voters exist to throw the election either way, so TV commercials may play a big role. On that front, DeWine has the edge. He has almost twice as much money on hand as Brown: $6.6 million compared to $3.7. The expected big media buys in the final weeks could turn a close race like this one. Mark Urycki, 90.3.