AKRON, Ohio -- On paper, Sen. Sherrod Brown looked like one of 2012's most vulnerable incumbents. He would be easy to portray as a liberal because... well, he's a liberal. His opponent was always going to be Josh Mandel, the youthful state Treasurer, who's been a rising star since he was in his 20s. (He's 35 now.) Mandel would raise more money than any Republican candidate, ever. And indeed he did. Watch TV for a half hour and you see a Club for Growth ad hitting Brown, a Now or Never PAC ad against Brown, a Mandel ad about his military service, and maybe, maybe a Brown ad that puts him in a factory, wearing a hard hat."
But when I caught up with Brown at an early voting site, he was holding onto a single-digit lead that had not moved in a month.
"They've run so negative on TV for so long that people have stopped believing them," said Brown. "My opponent has [benefitted from] $31 million. That's just TV and radio. We figure it'll be $40 million when all the billboards and yard signs... it makes their phony, astro-turf negative stuff less effective."
As his wife Connie Schultz held a supporter's baby ("I think we're going to end up taking him to Columbus"), Brown talked confidently about the race. I'm familiar enough with the b.s. of candidates in tight races. This didn't feel like that. Brown sounded genuinely annoyed by the spending, and worried only about the Secretary of State and election boards complicating rules for voters. "I was the Secretary of State here in the 1980s," he said. "Two years ago I go to vote, and even I'm confused. So I know the public's confused about it."
That was something to look at when the election was over. So was campaign finance. Voters, said Brown, hated the ad deluge from Super PACs, and Republicans would have to contend with that. "Will they say: We don't care? This helps us? Because it does help them. Or will there be Republicans who say, we've got to do the best thing for the country. I don't know, there are Republicans who are probably worried they'll be the next target in a primary."
Brown headed back into the field. The next day, he and Shultz got prime seats at Obama's final Ohio rally, and were filmed dancing to Jay-Z's "On to the Next One." No time to make an ad out of this.