WASHINGTON - This fall, it's almost impossible to get Capitol Hill Democrats to talk on the record about U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine.
Some duck a reporter outside the Senate chambers. Others ask spokesmen to call and explain, politely, that their bosses just can't right now. Please understand. The timing and all.
Finally someone agrees - freshman Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, who joined the two-term Republican from Cedarville on a judicial compromise last year. Here is everything he will say about Mr. DeWine: "He is a very nice guy."
It was not always thus. Democrats, as Mr. DeWine notes frequently, have praised Ohio's senior senator for working across party lines on children's prescription drugs, highway crash ratings, Great Lakes preservation, and several other issues.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) once called Mr. DeWine a "common sense conservative, willing to work on a bipartisan basis." Sen. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) said he "represents Ohio well." Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) said he "is always looking out for the children."
But it is election time now. Scandal in Mr. DeWine's political party and voter anger over the Iraq war, which he supported, have put Mr. DeWine on the brink of senatorial elimination at the hands of U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D., Avon) - and the Democratic Party in striking distance of a Senate takeover.
Mr. Brown has portrayed Mr. DeWine as a pawn for corporate interests and an unpopular president.
Even Democrats who like Mr. DeWine personally are rooting against him.
"It's too bad it wasn't somebody else," said one anonymity-requesting Democratic congressman who has worked closely with the senator. "And it's too bad the nation is at stake."
Mr. DeWine, 59, grew up in a small-business agricultural family, married his teenage sweetheart, received a law degree, and won election as Greene County prosecutor before he turned 30. He was a congressman and lieutenant governor - and a failed challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. John Glenn in 1992 - before winning his Senate seat in 1994.
He is Roman Catholic, a father of eight and grandfather of nine, who splits his time between his Cedarville farm and suburban Virginia home. Senate records estimate his personal fortune, built through a trust run by his father, is worth millions.
He is fond of oatmeal, milk, and his wife Fran's apple pie. He was a major force behind the Patriot Act and perhaps the Senate's biggest champion of aid to Haiti. Some political observers call his mix of fiscal conservatism with more centrist positions on gun control and the environment a good approximation of "true north" in the Ohio electorate.
"If you're judging Senate performance by actually passing laws, Mike is the best," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), the Senate majority whip. "Mike's record speaks for itself. I would say nice things about other Republicans, but I wouldn't say this."
Mr. DeWine pitches cooperation on the stump. His standard speech often begins with the FIRE Act, a bill he and Mr. Dodd co-wrote that steers money to local fire departments.
His economic development plan begins with leveraging his spot on the Appropriations Committee to bring billions more federal dollars to Ohio for children's hospitals and fuel-cell research.
"When you look at the cumulative effect of all that I've done on children's health, on all I've done for highway safety, those are big issues," Mr. DeWine said. "I go where I can get things done."
Some conservatives complain about Mr. DeWine's judicial compromise with Democrats and a voting record applauded by gun-control advocates.
Mr. Brown and Democratic leaders say Mr. DeWine's aisle-crossing efforts are overshadowed by his cooperation with President Bush on the issues that polls show voters care most about this election, including Iraq, national security, and taxes.
In an interview, Mrs. Clinton said Mr. DeWine is wrong "on the big issues, about economic fairness, who gets the tax cuts - obviously the Republicans are for tax cuts for the wealthiest, Democrats are for tax cuts for the middle class Sherrod is really drawing those distinctions well."
Mrs. Clinton has visited Ohio twice to campaign or raise money for Mr. Brown. The first time she came, several Republicans say, the state GOP wanted to welcome her with a press release attacking her as too liberal for Ohio.
Mr. DeWine, the sources say, nixed the plan.
The senator does not recall either way.
But, he says, "I would not have been in favor of that. It's not my style. These are people I work with."
Contact Jim Tankersley at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.38.89037 -77.03196