Brown’s relative strength among blue-collar whites has raised the possibility that it is Obama who now needs Brown’s help. “He has a lot of credibility among working-class voters. He says, ‘I’m going to fight for you,’ and they believe it…. And those are voters who might typically vote for a Republican,” says Thomas Sutton, a political science professor at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio.
Voters in Ohio’s coal country, for example, have turned against Obama in part because of a slew of new environmental regulations. “But on coal, Brown doesn’t get that same kind of treatment, because he’s seen as the one who works for the interest of Ohio jobs. And those voters might vote a split ticket; we’ll see a lot of that across the state: Ohioans voting for Romney and Brown,” Sutton says. “I’d put a lot more money on Brown winning than Obama winning. If anything, the coattail effect is going to be the reverse; if Obama wins Ohio, it’s going to be in part because of Brown.”
If that happens, Mandel would be credited with an assist. As in Missouri, where McCaskill seems to have drawn the best possible opponent to win reelection, Brown got lucky with Mandel. The Republican candidate has done little to attract swing voters, and he has faced a steady stream of criticism for missteps, misstatements, and worse. Opponents have slammed the state treasurer for skipping dozens of official meetings. He came under fire for hiring college friends and campaign aides without relevant experience. This spring, Mandel returned $105,000 in campaign contributions in response to an FBI probe. PolitiFact has panned him for having a “casual relationship with the truth” and given a slew of his statements its worst rating. (Brown doesn’t escape the watchdog’s criticism; his statements have earned two ratings of “false” and two of “mostly false.”)
If Brown—and Obama, for that matter—prevail, it will be because of voters such as Charles Eller, a lifelong registered Republican from Wooster, Ohio. “I sure as hell ain’t voting for Mitt Romney after what he said about the 47 percent, and I sure as hell ain’t voting for Josh Mandel; he’s been caught in too many lies,” Eller says. “I didn’t vote for Obama in ’08, and I wasn’t happy with him when he passed Obamacare, and I’m still not happy with some parts of it. But now I’m on disability for chronic pulmonary disease, so it’s helping me. Obama, he saved the auto industry, and Mitt Romney said, ‘Let ’em go bankrupt.’ ”
As for Brown, Eller says, “He hasn’t screwed up enough to make me mad, and he’s a whole lot more honest than Josh Mandel—even if I don’t always like what he says.”
This article originally appeared in print as "Trading Spaces."
This article appears in the Oct. 20, 2012, edition of National Journal.