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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Sherrod Brown, in a tough re-election race, makes a pitch to GOP voters

a man in a light gray suit with curly salt and pepper hair looks into the distance
Mariam Zuhaib
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, listens during a news conference on the Child Tax Credit, Dec. 7, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Brown has survived a decade of statewide Democratic losses in Ohio by building a reputation as the rare person in his party who can still connect with the white working-class voters who have increasingly shifted to Republicans.

It's hard to argue with the notion that Ohio's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, is smack dab in the middle of the toughest fight of his long political career.

In a year where the fight between Republicans and Democrats for control of the U.S. Senate will come pretty darned close to overshadowing even the presidential race, Ohio will be flooded with an almost unimaginable amount of money by both parties and their allies.

Brown is in a pickle: He is one of only two Senate Democrats running for reelection this year in a state won in 2020 by Donald Trump, the other being Jon Tester of Montana.

If Brown is going to win another term, he is going to need help.

Help, that is, from Republican voters.

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Help from Republicans who have had enough of Trump. Republicans who have voted for Trump in the last two presidential elections and voted for the populist Brown in the past.

Bernie Moreno, in a red shirt, waves to a crowd
Joe Maiorana
Bernie Moreno is acknowledged at a rally with former President Donald Trump at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, on April 23, 2022, in Delaware, Ohio.

And help from GOP voters who are not at all convinced by their party's candidate, former luxury car dealer Bernie Moreno, an incredibly wealthy man with no experience in office, a rather sketchy resume, and the backing of Trump, who has more and more Republicans turning up their noses with each passing day.

This reality has not been lost on a politician as savvy as Brown, nor on the people who run his campaign.

And this is why both his re-election campaign and some of his Senate actions lately stick out like a sore thumb as examples of his reaching out to Republican voters.

He even speaks the ex-president's name in one of his campaign ads, saying Trump signed his bill on border security into law.

Another Brown TV ad touts his role in bringing the Intel multi-billion dollar microchip plant to Ohio, emphasizing that he and others of his party worked hand-in-hand with Republican colleagues to get it done.

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And just last week, Brown was one of three Democratic senators — along with Tester and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — to buck the Biden administration to vote against new strict EPA rules on tailpipe emissions for cars and small trucks.

You can be assured that Sherrod Brown will continue to work that side of the street.

"It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Sherrod is trying to pick up Republican voters," said David Pepper, former Ohio Democratic Party chairman. "And I have no doubt this is his hardest race. But he has done it in the past and can do it again."

"Sherrod has a big opportunity here," Pepper said. "There are a lot of Republicans in suburban communities who are not all-in for the extremism of Trump or Moreno. Particularly Republican women."

Mark R. Weaver, a longtime Republican strategist in Ohio, disagrees, saying that "for every suburban Republican vote Sherrod Brown picks up he will lose another."

"It's laughable seeing him trying to cozy up to Trump and MAGA," Weaver said. "He has chutzpah, I will give him that. You won't find anybody who hates Donald Trump more than Sherrod Brown."

Ohio's political headwinds are all working against Brown, Weaver said.

"Ohio is growing redder as Sherrod grows grayer," Weaver said. "And this will be a good Republican year."

The blue-collar Democrats of the Mahoning valley — once a Democratic stronghold — have gone over to Donald Trump, Weaver said.

"Everything is lining up against him," Weaver said.

Pepper said there is much more to Ohio than just winning Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

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"That string of counties along Lake Erie — from Erie to Lorain to Lake to Ashtabula — those are the key," Pepper said. "If you win these, you win Ohio. And much of the lakefront was in Sherrod's old House district. They know him.

"There's a lot more to this than just the Mahoning Valley," Pepper said.

Then there is a factor that is much harder to quantify than which counties will fall for Brown and which for Moreno.

It's a state-of-mind situation. People who support both Sherrod Brown and Donald Trump, sometimes for similar reasons.

Pepper said that ever since he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Ohio attorney general in 2014, he has been hearing from Ohio voters about why they support Brown, even though they vote Republican in presidential contests.

"These are the voters who say, 'I don't agree with Sherrod Brown on everything, but that's OK; he's fighting for my pension, fighting to keep my plant open.'

"They’re with Trump and they are with Sherrod on issues like trade, steel — working class issues," Pepper said. "People who say, 'I like Sherrod Brown because he is fighting for Ohio workers.' "

If there are enough of those Republican and Republican-leaning voters around in November, Sherrod Brown just may pull another rabbit out of his hat.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.