The Columnist Who Shut Up to Speak Out

"I'm having to rein myself in," says Connie Schultz of her role as wife to Rep. Sherrod Brown. (By Joanna Kuebler/The Post)
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

CLEVELAND At a lively Democratic gathering in a nearby suburb, Senate candidate Sherrod Brown is talking up his wife to the party faithful. He says, as he always does in this part of Ohio, that the crowd probably already knows Connie Schultz as a prizewinning newspaper columnist.

As the seven-term congressman praises her "terrific sacrifice" in giving up the column in the Plain Dealer during the campaign, a spirited voice calls out from the back, "Just win, honey!"

That would be Schultz, who less than a year after winning a Pulitzer Prize tucked away her pen and pad to support her husband in the toughest race of his career -- and one of the most important, most intense, most eyeballed matches of the 2006 campaign season.

The campaign role is new to her. So, for practical purposes, is the marriage. Schultz and Brown met in 2003 when each was long divorced. Now, barely on opposite sides of 50, they are learning to be political partners amid the friction and heat of a grueling race. As friend Jackie Cassara put it, "Why don't you just put them in a centrifuge and spin vigorously?"

Brown is surrendering a safe seat in Congress after seven terms to challenge Sen. Mike DeWine, a two-term Republican incumbent with a campaign treasury that stretches from Cincinnati to Toledo. Schultz is giving up the comfort and satisfaction of her freewheeling newspaper voice.

Some days, the blessing is decidedly mixed. As she arrived to speak to a crowd of 430 retirees at United Auto Workers Local 1250, the union president made a pitch for Brown's candidacy. He then turned to her and said, "I believe he's sent his lovely wife. Connie, is it?"

"The hardest thing," she says, "is I'm always talking for my husband."

Brown, 53, is a doctor's son schooled at Yale. Schultz, 49, is a maintenance man's daughter who became her family's first college graduate. Yet with their progressive philosophy, their passion for the underdog and their gregarious flesh-pressing, there is no mistaking that they are a matched set.

There are plenty of similarities in their rhetoric, too. Schultz, for instance, has publicly accused DeWine of lying about her husband's record and "betraying the working families he was supposed to serve."

Their collective decision to challenge DeWine, a family values conservative with an agreeable public persona in a state long dominated by Republicans, is the biggest political risk of their professional lives. Brown initially said he would not run, because of family concerns.

"I was really the holdout," Schultz says. "We were in a very new marriage. I was not a political spouse. I knew how you could blow a marriage."

As they talked, and talked, she came to see that Brown needed to enter the race or forever regret it. As she puts it, "The stars had aligned, and I was going to be the big, fat moon in the way."

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