While addressing coal miners in southern Ohio during a campaign stop earlier this week, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel suddenly sounded a little, well, different.
Mr. Mandel's slight Southern inflection in a speech about coal has raced through the Web, propelled gleefully by Democratic Party pols who see it as another example of Mr. Mandel as "a politician we just can't trust."
The Mandel campaign said the Democratic focus on his newfound Southern drawl is a "ridiculous" effort to change the subject from Sen. Sherrod Brown's voting record.
Mr. Mandel, the state treasurer now in his second year on the job, is running to unseat Senator Brown, a first-term Democratic incumbent, in the Nov. 6 general election. Mr. Mandel was in Beallsville, a small southeastern Ohio town, with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday.
There was a distinct twang in Mr. Mandel's voice when he said, " 'preciate everyone being out here," in a video the Ohio Democratic party has circulated. A very slight Southern accent creeps back several times into the 90-second speech, which ends with Mr. Mandel sounding ready to sacrifice his life to protect the coal industry.
After saying some people in Hollywood and New York "think coal is a four-letter word," Mr. Mandel said, "for any of these folks, trying to stand between us and affordable, reliable, dependable energy, we have just four words for them: over our dead bodies."
The Democratic Party assembled a video contrasting the way Mr. Mandel talked in front of the miners with the way he says the same words at other public functions.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Mandel are tied in a new poll, released Wednesday by Rasmussen Reports, at 44 percent each.
Andrew Zucker, the Ohio Democratic Party's press secretary, said Mr. Mandel "was caught shockingly faking a Southern accent." Mr. Zucker said the "odd speech" was Mr. Mandel's "latest attempt to mislead Ohioans."
Mr. Mandel's biography is staunchly Northern. He's from Lyndhurst, a Cleveland suburb, and graduated from Ohio State University in Columbus and Case Western Reserve University law school in Cleveland.
Nicole Sizemore, a Mandel spokesman, issued a statement calling the time the Democrats have spent focusing on the accent issue "ridiculous and a clear sign of desperation." "Sherrod Brown will do anything to distract voters from the fact that on his watch Ohio has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs, America's national debt has skyrocketed to more than $15 trillion, and the Senate hasn't passed a budget in more than three years," she wrote.