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Top Progressive Senator Shares What It's Like to Fight Against $15 Million Deluge in Right-Wing Election Money

Senator Sherrod Brown's race has become emblematic of post-Citizens United politics.
 
 
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“To me all of this is about, whose side are you on?" Senator Sherrod Brown told AlterNet. It's something he says a lot, whether it's about foreclosures or his home state of Ohio's recent attacks on public workers. In the senator's raspy voice it carries echoes of the old labor song, “Which Side Are You On?”

But when he's talking about the $15 million (and counting) that's been spent against him so far this election year, it carries new weight. It doesn't pay, after all, to be on the side of the workers. The big money's on the side of the bankers, the businessmen who've outsourced Ohio jobs and want to keep doing so, the union-busters who tried (and failed) to take away public employees' right to collective bargaining. It's on the side of 34-year-old Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, the Republican who wants to take Brown's job from him after serving less than two years in statewide office.

Brown's race has become emblematic of post- Citizens United politics, with articles aplenty about the money the Right has spent to try to knock him out of his spot. Republicans want to retake the Senate, dreaming of a Congress where they can actually push anti-abortion legislation and one of the 33 attempts at repealing Obamacare all the way to the president's desk. And since Ohio is a swing state, outsider issue ads do double duty, whacking Obama and Brown at once and hoping to elect a president who will sign those bills into law.

But this race is about more than just right-wing money being indiscriminately poured into Senate races. It's a test of Brown's politics, to see whether the populist who won his seat in 2006 with one of the largest margins of victory over an incumbent in Ohio history can repeat that feat in a presidential election year, with all eyes on his state. The economy's still in shambles and the senator's been proven right on several issues (including free trade, his particular area of expertise), but with outside cash pouring in and an opponent who doesn't mind lying, will his record matter?

Which Side Are You On?

“This is a strong progressive leader who is demonstrating to the rest of the country that you can be a fighter for all Ohioans and have a strong progressive voice. It's populist and that scares them,” Brian Rothenberg of ProgressOhio told AlterNet.

A quick perusal of Brown's official YouTube page will show you what Rothenberg is talking about; you can watch his Senate floor speech about ending too-big-to-fail banks, calling out Wall Street's fraud and arguing not just for keeping Dodd-Frank but for strengthening regulations. You can hear the senator argue against outsourcing jobs, noting that production overseas not only has cheaper labor costs but also fewer environmental regulations--and mentioning his suit made in Cleveland by union workers. “I think he's been the strongest advocate for working people in the Senate,” Michael Podhorzer, political director for the AFL-CIO, told AlterNet.

Economic populism just hasn't been something Democrats have been very good at in recent years; the “Third Way” of the Clinton era opened the floodgates to Wall Street money and many Dems were unprepared when the economic crisis forced them to deal with the anger from their constituents as big banks were bailed out and jobs disappeared. But Sherrod Brown has been talking that talk—and backing it up with real policy proposals—since before Democrats realized it mattered. John Nichols noted back in 2006 that Brown was willing to take on his own party—not by swinging right to side with the Republicans or parrot their deficit fearmongering like the Blue Dogs, but by fighting Clinton's trade policies and calling for an investment in jobs at home. That message resonates doubly now.