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Sherrod Brown easily wins re-election over Jim Renacci in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race

November 7, 2018

Sherrod Brown easily wins re-election over Jim Renacci in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown has cruised to re-election in what turned out to be a surprisingly easy race over Republican Rep. Jim Renacci.

National news outlets began calling the race shortly before 8 p.m., just under a half-hour after the polls closed. Renacci conceded in a phone call to Brown around 8 p.m. With nearly 1.4 million votes counted, Brown was leading Renacci 57 percent to 43 percent.

Unless Democrats over-perform in U.S. Senate races across the country, Brown, 65, likely will remain in the minority. But his positions on powerful committees will keep in the center of several important pieces of legislation, including a farm bill compromise and a bipartisan fix for a multi-employer pension fund for 1.5 million union retirees.

Brown’s compelling victory in a state Donald Trump won by 8 points is sure to generate buzz for a 2020 presidential bid. Hillary Clinton nearly selected Brown as her running mate in 2016, but passed. Since then, Brown occasionally has made comments that leave room for a possible run. But he also hasn’t made the kinds of moves a presidential contender would make, such as hitting the campaign trail for Democrats in other states. Brown still could offer national Democrats a path to winning in the industrial Midwest, a region Trump’s political team is targeting for his re-election campaign in 2020.

“I’m not really all that surprised. Sherrod Brown’s a political legend in Ohio,” said Matt Borges, a former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. “He’s one of the most successful politicians in Ohio history, and this was always going to be a tough race. Jim stepped up, I give him credit for that, but there was never really any indication that he was making this a competitive race, and that’s obviously how it turned out.”

The Senate campaign saw Brown’s ugly 1986 divorce — in which his then-wife, while seeking a restraining order alleged he had been rough with her and frightened her  — pushed back into the public sphere, thanks to a weeks-long campaign from Renacci. As he has when the issue has come up in the past, Brown denied being violent with his ex-wife. His ex-wife, Larke Recchie, now is a supporter, and even cut a campaign ad denouncing Renacci’s efforts to politicize the issue. The issue apparently didn’t damage him electorally, but could serve as a liability with national Democratic voters. Brown’s status as an older white man in an increasingly diverse party also could dampen his ability to win in a Democratic primary.

Renacci, meanwhile, started behind in the race and never caught up. He had been running for governor when in January, the Ohio Republican Party establishment’s first choice for the Senate race, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, dropped out of the race, citing personal reasons. 

Amid some behind-the-scenes jockeying during which Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor rebuffed efforts to draw her into the race, Renacci was recruited by Trump’s political team to take Mandel’s place on the ballot. They reasoned that Renacci’s biography as a businessman could help him draw a contrast with Brown’s long career in politics, while Renacci’s personal wealth could help him underwrite a successful campaign. The state party endorsed him in February, helping propel him to victory in a May primary over a field of lesser-known candidates.

Renacci indeed loaned his campaign $4 million, which would have put him on good footing to mount a competitive campaign. But it appears he never actually spent it. Renacci spent less than $1 million on campaign commercials between June and November. Brown spent more on that each week heading into the final weeks of the campaign, and even had enough money left-over to make maximum contributions to the rest of the Democratic ticket.

Meanwhile, the deep-pocketed, outside Republican groups that normally flood Ohio’s elections with cash never got involved with Renacci’s campaign. Local and national Republicans have said they overlooked Ohio, judging Renacci didn’t stand a great chance, in favor of other states, like Indiana, Missouri, Montana and West Virginia that were more competitive and less expensive to buy advertising in. This has led Renacci to privately complain that he didn’t get the national support he expected. Republicans, meanwhile, have privately complained that Renacci sent a bad message to prospective donors by asking them to fund his campaign even though he wasn’t willing to spend his own money.

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