On the eve of a Toledo debate with his Democratic challenger, Republican U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine was forced yesterday to correct another attack ad for accuracy.
Mr. DeWine (R., Cedarville) and U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D., Avon) will meet at 7 tonight at the Stranahan Theater, in an event sponsored by The Blade and WTVG-TV, Channel 13. WTVG will broadcast it live locally, and C-SPAN will carry it nationwide on tape delay.
It's Round 3 of a so-far bruising series of debates. And it appears the candidates will have plenty new to talk about.
State officials said yesterday that Mr. Brown's congressional campaign settled a delinquent unemployment tax bill in 1994, four months after it was filed. The revelation contradicted an ad Mr. DeWine launched hours earlier, in which an elderly woman tells Mr. Brown "I just don't trust you" because "you didn't pay your outstanding tax bill for 12 years."
The Republican National Committee aired a similar spot this week, which accused Mr. Brown of not paying unemployment taxes for 13 years.
Democrats accused Mr. DeWine and the RNC of lying and threatened lawsuits to boot the ad off television.
"The DeWine campaign and the Republican Party must immediately pull down yet another advertisement that deceived voters with an attack we proved to be false," Brown spokesman Joanna Kuebler said. "Senator DeWine should apologize for deceiving Ohioans in a last-ditch attempt to save his career."
In July, Mr. DeWine revised an ad attacking Mr. Brown on national security, after U.S. News & World Report magazine discovered the ad featured a doctored image of the burning World Trade Center in New York.
Yesterday, the senator said he did not know whether he would recall the tax bill ad. "We'll have to find out what the facts are," he said. Later, a spokesman admitted the campaign will revise the ad to reflect "the facts."
An RNC spokesman, Aaron McLear, said the committee would continue to air its ad. He said in a statement that Mr. Brown's "fondness for tax increases and inability to pay his taxes on time provide further proof that he is wrong for Ohio."
Republican sources said yesterday the RNC has pushed Mr. DeWine for weeks to toughen his attack ads on Mr. Brown. Mr. DeWine declined to discuss conversations about strategy.
The DeWine campaign said in July that the Trade Center ad would be the first in a hard-hitting series. It wasn't. After being forced to switch the image of the twin towers, Mr. DeWine's next ads were more likely to feature him talking to the camera and criticizing Mr. Brown's record on issues such as taxes.
A batch of public polls this week showed Mr. Brown opening a double-digit lead in a race that had been a dead heat. Denying published reports that it was shifting money from Mr. DeWine to other candidates, the RNC unveiled the ad alleging a "scandal" in Mr. Brown's unpaid unemployment taxes and produced documents suggesting his 1993 tax lien went unaddressed until 2005.
The Brown campaign produced a record yesterday, verified by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, showing the nearly $1,800 bill was paid in full - and the lien released - in April, 1994, four months after it was filed.
Department officials said the lien release didn't show up until recently because no one in the Brown campaign filed it in Lorain County court. The campaign discovered the discrepancy in 2005, state officials said.
The controversy interrupted both candidates' preparations for tonight's debate, which comes at a critical time in a race analysts call one of a handful that could swing Senate control from Republicans to Democrats.
Mr. DeWine is looking to regain lost ground. In previous debates, he framed the race as a choice between a do-nothing congressman and a senator who works bipartisanly to help Ohio.
Mr. Brown is looking to cement his lead, which jumped as high as 14 points in this week's polling. He previously portrayed the race as a choice between a fighter for the middle class and a status-quo incumbent.
WTVG anchor Diane Larson will moderate the debate, which is free and open to the public.
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