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In increasingly nasty Senate race, Jim Renacci ups the ante with unsubstantiated attack on Sherrod Brown

Andrew J. Tobias, cleveland.comOctober 18, 2018

In increasingly nasty Senate race, Jim Renacci ups the ante with unsubstantiated attack on Sherrod Brown

CLEVELAND, Ohio — In a Wednesday interview with one of Ohio’s biggest newspapers, Republican Rep. Jim Renacci made explosive, but entirely unsubstantiated allegations against Democrat Sherrod Brown, his opponent who is strongly favored to be re-elected to the U.S. Senate.

During an interview seeking the Cincinnati Enquirer’s endorsement, Renacci told editors and reporters that “multiple” women recently have reached out to his campaign, claiming that Brown had assaulted them sometime between 1987 and 2004. He said he referred the women to a lawyer who specializes in domestic abuse, but provided no proof or specifics, according to an article The Enquirer published online on Wednesday night about the interview. Renacci refused to identify the lawyer.

Renacci’s campaign on Wednesday confirmed his comments to cleveland.com, provided no further details or evidence to verify the allegations.

“They’re serious and they’re detailed and they’re specific,” James Slepian, who’s serving as a general consultant for Renacci’s campaign, said of the allegations the Renacci campaign says it received.

Preston Maddock, a Brown campaign spokesman, said: “Congressman Renacci is both pathetic and irresponsible. He has known that his attacks on Sherrod’s family are inappropriate. He has decided to ignore Sherrod’s former wife [Larke Rechie’s] demand that he stop. And his political desperation is both stunning and disgusting.”

Renacci’s allegations are remarkable in several ways. One, Renacci has no proof to back up the allegations. Two, it comes in the closing weeks of a campaign in which Brown has consistently led in public polls by 10 points or more, and amid increasing frustration from Ohio Republicans that Renacci has failed to mount a viable campaign.

And three, Renacci for weeks has been weaving Brown’s nasty 1986 divorce into a critique of how Democrats and the media handled allegations against Brett Kavanaugh during the contentious process that ultimately saw Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court. As has been widely covered, Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Kavanauh, while a high-school student, had sexually assaulted her during a party. 

“He [Kavanaugh] has done so much good, and we’re going after him for unsubstantiated claims,” Renacci said during an Oct. 5 interview with the editorial board for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. “Dr. Ford’s claims haven’t been substantiated. The only thing people from Ohio are claiming is that this is ridiculous.”

On Wednesday, Renacci told The Enquirer: “It’s got to be substantiated. Kavanaugh’s wasn’t substantiated. In fact, I believe Dr. Ford, her testimony was... to hear that, you know something happened in her life. But it wasn’t substantiated that Judge Kavanaugh did it. Here’s the problem, when there’s substantiation, you shouldn’t be attacking people.”

During Brown’s 1986 divorce, Recchie, his then-wife, alleged in court filings he had been rough with her and frightened her. She is now a supporter who has said their divorce led only to “angry words.” 

Recchie issued a statement after “Me Too Ohio,” a Super PAC, formed by Renacci’s political allies, launched a digital campaign calling attention to the divorce allegations on Sept. 13. 

“This isn’t the first time someone has gone after my family to score cheap political points,” Recchie said in a statement at the time. “I’m dismayed that Congressman Renacci would do something this shameless, despite the fact that I’ve already addressed this matter.” 

After Renacci and Me Too Ohio launched statewide TV ads on Friday calling attention to the divorce, saying Brown had “physically abused” his ex-wife, the Brown campaign responded by releasing a video from Recchie. The ad was Renacci’s first since June.

“Divorce can be difficult and ours was no different. But the political attacks against our family are just wrong,” Recchie said in the ad. ”...I understand politics can sometimes be nasty, but Jim Renacci should be ashamed.” 

Renacci raised the issue again on Sunday during a debate in Cleveland with Brown. 

“My opponent, Sherrod Brown, has a voluminous record, substantiated claims of abuse,” Renacci said. “The people of Ohio need to look at that abuse and understand it. He will say his ex-wife forgave him, God bless her... That situation is a standard of conduct that Sherrod Brown violated, and he should not be serving anymore.”

“My former wife asked you to stop attacking our family,” Brown said in response. “She called these charges and your attacks despicable.”

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