On the brink of a loss to Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Jim Renacci’s desperate gamble: Brent Larkin

September 27, 2018

On the brink of a loss to Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Jim Renacci’s desperate gamble: Brent Larkin

CLEVELAND -- U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci wants Ohio voters to view him as a poster child for the #MeToo movement.

Which will happen moments after I win the Nobel Prize for Physics.    

No one from the political party that slavishly adores a president who brags about physically abusing women gets to set the ground rules on sexual harassment and abuse.  

Especially when Renacci still brags about not abandoning Trump after he was caught on tape telling Billy Bush he likes to grab women “by the pussy.”  

Renacci, the Northeast Ohio congressman and Republican candidate for Sherrod Brown’s Senate seat, is nearing the final month of one of the worst-run campaigns in Ohio history.  

Unable to raise the money and unwilling to spend much of his enormous wealth, Renacci has allowed Brown to spend millions on television ads defining him as a self-dealing and thoroughly unlikeable human being.  

Now, the damage done, Renacci and his gutter-dwelling supporters have tossed a Hail Mary. In an act of utter desperation, they’re trotting out the messy details of Sen. Sherrod Brown’s divorce from his first wife.  

Absent an unforeseen skeleton tumbling from Brown’s closet, it won’t work.  

Few public records in Ohio have been more carefully scrutinized than the court filings from Browns’s 32-year-old divorce.  

Renacci is hoping the #MeToo movement will prompt voters to revisit their support for Brown. He argues the two-term Democratic senator is unfit because of his “well-documented history of domestic violence.”  

The accusations Brown’s ex-wife, Larke Recchie, leveled against him were hardly frivolous. And the timing of this issue resurfacing makes some Brown supporters nervous.

Fact is, only two people know for certain what happened at the end of that marriage. But there are three things we do know.  

*In 1986, Recchie signed an affidavit saying Brown “intimidated, pushed, shoved and bullied” her on several occasions. She was granted a restraining order to prevent Brown from harassing her, saying she was in fear for her safety.  

*Brown and his ex-wife have long ago resolved their differences. She has enthusiastically supported Brown in all three of his Senate campaigns, hosted fundraisers for him, and filmed television commercials critical of opponents who might raise the issue of their divorce. None of the commercials have yet to air. Larke is Brown’s lifeline, saying “this isn’t the first time someone has gone after my family to score cheap political points .... Anyone who suggests he [Brown] is not an honorable man is just wrong.”

*Brown has run for office 10 times since that divorce. He has won nine times. The one loss came in 1990, Brown’s first election after the divorce, when he lost a re-election campaign for secretary of state to Republican Bob Taft. Not surprisingly, Taft never raised the issue.

Two years later, when Brown relocated to Northeast Ohio to run for Congress, his Republican opponent, the late Margaret Mueller, raised it repeatedly. On Election Day, voters rewarded her with 36.5 percent of the vote.  

Republican Josh Mandel was the next to raise it. In his 2012 Senate campaign against Brown, the Beachwood Republican labeled Brown “a real hypocrite when it comes to issues in respect to domestic violence.” Mandel then stopped mentioning it.

Renacci probably won’t stop. But he wants it both ways. In an interview in the Sept. 11 issue of the National Journal, Renacci was asked why Trump voters should consider him an ally.  

“They saw me support him even during the Billy Bush scenario, when people were running away,” he said, in part.  

So Renacci stands by a man widely accused of predatory behavior, someone whose default position is to blame female victims of abuse.  

And Renacci has now enlisted three unapologetic worshippers of the most misogynistic president in history -- Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor; State Rep. Christina Hagan; and Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken -- to assist in branding Brown unfit. These mothers were far less outraged when their president supported a Senate candidate in Alabama credibly accused of sexually assaulting underage girls.  

Wonder how they’ll explain that to their children.   

Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer’s editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.

To reach Brent Larkin: blarkin@cleveland.com

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