Ohio May Hold Key Lessons for 2008

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 11, 2006

COLUMBUS -- Within hours of trouncing Sen. Mike DeWine (R) to become the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in Ohio since 1992, Rep. Sherrod Brown heard from a trio of Democratic well-wishers: Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama, presidential aspirants all.

The calls were hardly surprising.

"This is an important state," Brown said. "People know that."

Political strategists girding for 2008 are already studying Ohio, which this week produced a Democratic sweep of the most important statewide offices after backing President Bush and the Republicans in 2004. No Republican has ever reached the White House without winning here.

The political climate for the GOP this year was the worst in three decades, largely because of the Iraq war and corruption scandals. But Brown and his advisers believe his populist appeal to the middle class on economic issues was central to his decisive defeat of DeWine, a two-term incumbent who lost by nearly 500,000 votes.

Brown and Rep. Ted Strickland, who became Ohio's first Democratic governor-elect in 16 years, voiced support and understanding for Ohioans fearful about their economic futures. Layering their speeches with themes of economic and social justice, they called for progress on health care and jobs, on taxes and special-interest politics.

Although the Iraq war provided a crucial opening, Brown hammered DeWine not just for backing Bush on matters of national security but also for being part of a Republican majority that worked closely with drug and energy companies on legislation that affects average Ohioans. Early and often, he accused DeWine of betraying the middle class.

"There was a message about middle-class families, their challenges, their dreams, their aspirations, that they focused on laserlike," said Democratic strategist and unpaid Brown adviser Steve Ricchetti, who cited internal polls supporting the approach. "There's a lot to be learned from that, not only in 2008 in Ohio but generally."

Much could change in two years. Indeed, much already has, with control of Congress and Ohio's major statewide offices passing to the Democrats. No longer will Democratic candidates be able to say that their opponents hold all the levers of power. Democrats will have a deeper record to tout or defend.

Also, a widely unpopular Republican president will be on his way out, and it remains unknown how the Iraq war and the U.S. economy will be faring, or what other issue will emerge.

But at a time when voters continually complain that Democrats do not offer an alternative vision, many people credited Brown and Strickland with presenting affirmative messages and clear profiles that carried their campaigns, even as 11 of 12 congressional Republicans successfully defended their seats.

Even some opponents offered praise.

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