Clarence J. Brown, son of a congressman and a congressman himself for the last 17 years, is an intelligent, decent man who would prefer that the gubernatorial race here not be a referendum on Reaganomics.

Yet he has welcomed Reagan, Vice President Bush and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) to Ohio, which has the nation's third-highest unemployment rate. He has also appeared at state unemployment offices to talk to the jobless.

This has made him easy prey for Celeste, a former lieutenant governor making his second run at the governorship. He routinely calls Brown "Ronald Reagan's Ohio cheerleader" and accuses him of "doing splits" for the president and "cartwheels for the oil companies."

"Sit back, put your feet up, stay the course, the president says," Celeste told a cheering crowd of more than 1,000 here recently. "It's like the band leader on the Titanic saying, 'Strike up the music, keep dancing, pay no attention that the ship is slowly sinking to the bottom of the sea.' "

Brown's campaign has been plagued by money problems, his Washington orientation and his low-key manner. Many of the party faithful are worried about Brown's campaign.

During a debate in Dayton, Brown repeatedly put Celeste, director of the Peace Corps under President Carter, on the defensive by blaming Ohio's economic ills on Carter's policies.

It was a skillful performance on national issues. But Brown stumbled on two matters of local concern by offhandedly suggesting that the system for financing schools be realigned and that utility customers be required to pay for a nearby nuclear power plant even if it never produces electricity.

Celeste, who had clearly lost much of the debate, could barely contain his glee. "Every week he does something like this," he said. "He keeps picking up lit dynamite sticks and holding them in his hand."