Sen. Brown wins, holds off challenge from Renacci

Sen. Sherrod Brown won re-election Tuesday over Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, giving the Ohio Democrat a third six-year term in the U.S. Senate and his fifth statewide victory since 1982.


CNN called the race about a half hour after the polls closed at 7:30 p.m.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci of Wadsworth worked to the end of the race, pointing to an internal poll showing 17 percent of voters remained undecided. On the other hand, Renacci still hadn’t spent the $4 million he loaned to his campaign as of Friday, and he would not commit to doing so.

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Brown called his victory proof that "progressives can win — and win decisively — in the heartland." Brown, criticized as voting like "a Hollywood liberal" by Renacci, has agreed on Trump's moves to toughen trade agreements. But his victory speech made clear that he disapproves of the president's rhetoric and other policies.

"We do not appeal to some by pushing down others," Brown said. "We do not lie. We do not engage in hate speech. And we do not rip babies from their families at the border."

He said populists aren't racists or anti-Semitic and added: "We will never ever give up the hallowed ground of patriotism to the extremists — at the Statehouse and in the White House."

Brown has been around long enough to see many “sure bets” dissolve on Election Day, so he aggressively raised money in his typical apocalyptic tone despite a huge financial advantage. Yet in the past week he shelled out $300,000 to a Democratic Party account and $100,000 to Ohio congressional candidates, as well as maximum-allowable contributions to the other Democratic statewide hopefuls.

The incumbent spent much of his speeches touting the rest of the statewide ticket, and much of his time helping congressional and even state legislative candidates.

Asked if all that was a sign that he was comfortable with the state of his own race, he replied: “I don’t consider it a victory if I win and we don’t win other statewide races and we don’t win races like Louise’s,” Brown said, referring to state Senate candidate Louis Valentine in southern Delaware County, near Columbus, who he was aiding Friday.

“We have some of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. We have more opioid deaths. In this state we under-fund public education,” Brown said. “It’s the most corrupt state government in my lifetime … If we don’t change the way we run our state, the state will continue to face these problems.”

Renacci shared his poll results with a group crowded into Columbiana County GOP headquarters Saturday. “What’s happening here is Sherrod can’t break 50 (percent), a whole bunch of people (are) undecided and a lot of people don’t know who Jim Renacci is.”

Renacci was a late entry in the Senate fray; he jumped in from the governor’s race after state Treasurer Josh Mandel dropped out of a rematch with Brown, citing an illness afflicting his wife. Still, Brown was viewed as vulnerable by some because he is a liberal Democrat in a state President Donald Trump won by more than 8 points in 2016.

And when Renacci, a former businessman who’d been in Congress since 2011, went to the White House and got Trump’s promised support, the 2018 battleground looked like a possible pick-up opportunity for the GOP.

But since then, outside groups and Senate Republicans haven’t invested much in Renacci’s campaign. They’ve been forced to pour resources into GOP-held seats elsewhere that suddenly were under siege.

Saturday, Renacci insisted that Trump has supported him adequately. Trump was in Cleveland Monday rallying voters for Renacci and governor candidate Mike DeWine.

“He’s been here, I think six times,” Renacci said. “He’s made sure that he pushed my candidacy. I’ve been with his son. I’ve been with both his sons. I was with his daughter. I mean, look, the Trump family has just been great.”

Indeed, Eric Trump had appeared at an event in Canton just a day earlier with Renacci and Bob Gibbs, a Republican congressman from Holmes County. But afterward, Renacci, one of the richest members of Congress, wouldn’t say whether he’d spend any of the $4 million he’d lent his campaign.

“We’re going to continue to always spend the money that will be necessary to win,” he said.

As it’s worn on, the campaign became increasingly nasty as Renacci raised allegations from Brown’s 1986 divorce and pushed a claim of abuse by Brown that the Republican offered no evidence to support. Brown called him desperate and threatened to sue.

During speeches Saturday at a union hall and a high school gym, Brown did not refer to his opponent. He saved his criticism for GOP opponents of his Democratic colleagues, saying the Republicans had “stolen” hundreds of millions in taxpayer money for charter schools like the now-kaput ECOT and received “kickbacks” in the form of campaign contributions from ECOT’s leaders.

And, of course, Trump and GOP officials in general were a target.

“What kind of moral society do we live in when the government rips children from their families at the border, when the Supreme Court puts its thumb on the scale of justice and always decides for corporations over workers, Wall Street over consumers and insurance companies over individual patients?” Brown asked.

In sharp contrast to the “enemy of the people” rhetoric of Trump rallies, Brown — married to a Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist — pointed to journalists covering the events Saturday and praised the free press. The crowd at the high school turned around, applauded and cheered the news media.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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