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Candidate Brown challenges GOP establishment

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Sherrod Brown has a cup of coffee yesterday as he talks with voters during a stop at Toledo's Downtown Latte to kick off his campaign for U.S. Senate. Schuyler Beckwith, right, and Al Baldwin share a table with the candidate.

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The room was packed, the lattes foamy, the coffee stamped "fair trade," and the announcement as bold as a French roast.

Sherrod Brown ripped federal free-trade agreements, cheered workers' rights, and lumped U.S. Sen. Mike De-

Wine (R., Ohio) with a pair of struggling Republican leaders - President Bush and Gov. Bob Taft - in a formal campaign kickoff at Toledo's Downtown Latte yesterday.

The brief speech, and an earlier telephone interview with The Blade, brimmed with the sort of anti-Bush, anti-free-trade, anti-drug/insurance/oil/chemical-company rhetoric that has drawn Mr. Brown, a Democratic congressman from suburban Cleveland, admiration from labor unions and liberal bloggers - and leaves critics questioning whether he is too liberal for Ohio voters.

Mr. Brown began campaigning for Mr. DeWine's seat in earnest this week. His race begins with a primary against Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett; Mr. Brown yesterday declared himself "proud to carry the progressive banner."

Democrats in Ohio and nationwide are searching for a 2006 message to piggyback on months of Republican scandal. Mr. Brown said in the interview that the party should stand for raising the minimum wage, lowering energy costs, rejecting trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the recently passed Central American Free Trade Agreement, and ending the Iraq war "as quickly and as safely as we can."

If he were a senator today, Mr. Brown said he would oppose President Bush's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, because of his record on workers' rights litigation.

He criticized Mr. DeWine sharply for following Mr. Bush - and Mr. Taft, he said - "on every major issue."

Mr. DeWine's campaign manager, Matt Carle, said the senator has compiled an impressive record that he believes voters will prefer to Mr. Brown's.

Mr. Brown called Mr. Hackett "inconsistent" on his signature issue, Iraq war criticism, a charge Mr. Hackett's spokesman called "blatantly not true."

"The only thing consistent about Sherrod Brown's 30 years of public service," said the spokesman, Karl Frisch, "is that he's been a career politician."

Click on the link below for highlights from a 20-minute talk with Mr. Brown.

Contact Jim Tankersley at: jtankersley@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.

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