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Published: Thursday, 4/5/2012

'Grunt work'

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Seven months before Election Day, voters are starting to pay more attention to this year's U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and his Republican challenger, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. It's hardly surprising that Mr. Mandel is assailing Senator Brown's record in an effort to differentiate himself from his opponent.

There's nothing wrong with that, as long as Mr. Mandel's attacks are factual and fair (the same, of course, goes for the Brown campaign's criticism of the challenger). In that respect, voters deserve better than what they've heard so far.

Mr. Mandel charges, for example, that Senator Brown has pursued policies that have caused Ohio to lose jobs to China and other countries. His campaign says Mr. Brown voted for stimulus legislation that subsidized the production of wind-turbine parts by Chinese companies.

But it turns out the project that would have used the parts was never completed, and its would-be suppliers never got stimulus money. More generally, Mr. Mandel says Mr. Brown's positions on tax, fiscal, and regulatory policy have cost Ohio jobs.

The Brown campaign counters that the senator has worked to prevent U.S. jobs from moving to China. The campaign cites a bill sponsored by Mr. Brown that would seek sanctions against China for alleged manipulation of its currency.

Beyond the back and forth, experts on China and trade surveyed by The Blade suggested that blaming any individual politician for the shift of jobs to China is simplistic and misleading. Such job losses, they said, had less to do with public policy than with such things as differences in relative wages in the two countries.

They noted that as labor costs rise in China, some jobs are returning to this country. They also observed that Ohio is among the leading U.S. states in job-creating exports to China.

There are legitimate issues to debate. If supposedly excessive environmental regulation and worker and consumer protections in this country are causing an exodus of jobs, is the answer to adopt the standards that prevail in developing countries such as China? Any candidate want to make that argument?

We'd prefer that China-bashing and protectionism would not become centerpieces of either candidate's platform. As voters are seeing, the complexities and subtleties of trade issues do not lend themselves easily to sound-bite slogans.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently challenged Mr. Mandel to identify a single Ohio job that had gone to China because of a vote by Mr. Brown. His response to the newspaper: "You're the reporters -- you go do the grunt work."

That is: If you think you've caught me in a whopper, prove it; I'll say whatever I want. But it's still a valid question.

For its part, the Brown campaign accuses Mr. Mandel of using his post as state treasurer, which he assumed just last year, as a platform for his Senate campaign. Last month, Mr. Mandel attended for the first time a meeting of the Ohio Board of Deposit, which he chairs.

The board makes investment decisions about billions of dollars in state money. Attending its meetings would seem a basic exercise of the treasurer's duties, not something to be delegated to a staff member, whatever his professional expertise.

The campaigns also are squabbling about how their staffers should behave at the opposing candidate's events. If this is an example of how they will engage each other, it's going to be a long summer.

Polls suggest that Ohio's Senate vote will be one of the nation's most closely contested elections this November. That's no excuse for the campaign that precedes it to be conducted from the gutter.



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