Sen. Sherrod Brown has served in Congress since 1993, yet he launched his re-election campaign to the U.S. Senate with two TV attack ads against Republican opponent Jim Renacci, focusing entirely on Renacci instead of his own accomplishments.
The first TV commercial aired by Brown insinuated that as a member of Congress, Renacci was a lobbyist — a claim Politifact.com labeled as “mostly false.”
The second commercial, unleashed Thursday, charged that as a private businessman in 2000, Renacci was “forced to pay back taxes and interest of over a million dollars,” without mentioning the Ohio Supreme Court in 2016 ruled Renacci’s reading of the tax law was “not unreasonable.”
The tough opening attacks are a sign the race between Brown and Renacci could be among the nastiest in the country.
“Was I surprised to see the first ads be negative this early? Yeah,” said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate election analyst for the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.”
Brown, she said, “is using one of the most basic strategies of all — define your opponent before he can define himself. That’s what these ads are set up to do. Now he’s got Renacci on defense which is going to make it a lot harder for him to be on offense.”
Watch the ad here:
But Republican consultant Barry Bennett said Brown’s early commercials are a sign he and his staff are in “complete and total panic.”
“Six years ago when Sherrod won there were 300,000 more Democrats in Ohio than there are today,” Bennett said. “Ohio is a red state for the first time in a long, long time.”
Others suggest the commercials are a signal Brown has interest in being a potential vice presidential possibility in 2020.
Bruce Cuthbertson, an adviser to Pat Tiberi and John Kasich when they were Republican House members, said, “This isn’t just about Renacci; this is about Sherrod wanting to build up huge margins this fall to show how strong he is in Ohio.”
“It’s something he can use to try and position himself for a spot on the national ticket in 2020.”
Brown, who was elected to the Senate in 2006 after serving 14 years in the House, is not showing any signs of backing off. Preston Maddock, a Brown spokesman, said, “There’s a clear difference between Sherrod’s record of standing up for Ohio workers and Congressman Renacci’s record of looking out for himself.”
Negative ads are a staple in modern political campaigning. In the summer of 2016, Republican Sen. Rob Portman aired a 60-second commercial referring to Senate Democratic candidate Ted Strickland as “Re-tread Ted,” charging he couldn’t “be trusted on jobs” because the state lost 350,000 jobs while he was governor from 2007 through 2010.
And during Brown’s 2006 Senate race against then Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, Brown howled in protest when DeWine aired a commercial charging that Brown voted to cut money for national intelligence and hammering home the point by showing the World Trade Center towers on fire after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
The commercial backfired, however, when it was revealed the producers of the commercial used fake footage showing smoke coming out of one of the towers.
Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections in Washington, said campaigns no longer wait until Labor Day to unleash their commercials.
“There might be so much clutter in the fall that there’s an advantage to coming out earlier and trying to make a splash just before summer vacation really starts,” he said.