Even if Democrat challenger Sherrod Brown doesn't defeat U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, the race will have pushed the Republican incumbent toward the center. This midterm election is a referendum on the Bush administration and on DeWine's role as a part of the conservative establishment.
The race is increasingly tilted in favor of Brown. DeWine, who voted according to Bush's agenda more than 90 percent of the time, is openly distancing himself from the troubled presidential administration.
"I can say I don't have any confidence in (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld," DeWine says. "He's made major mistakes in this war. If I was the president, and I'm not ... he would not be my Secretary of Defense."
DeWine, finishing his second term, also admits that American patience with the Iraq War is running thin and says Iraq is "teetering on civil war."
These opinions aren't revelations — DeWine has expressed his disgust for Rumsfeld in multiple interviews. During the Republican primary in May, conservatives blasted DeWine for taking shots at Rumsfeld.
DeWine's also been willing to break party lines in the past on issues such as Head Start, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the federal minimum wage. On domestic issues, he has been a moderate, though until this campaign he has been a faithful friend to Bush on matters of foreign policy.
Recent polls show Brown with a 7 to 12 percent lead over DeWine, which seems to indicate a turning of the tide against the neo-conservative platform.
DeWine refers to Brown as a candidate on the fringe of his own party, and Brown has often been on the outside, as in the case of his vote against the Iraq invasion in 2003. At the time, that was politically dangerous; but in retrospect, to a war weary nation, it seems like common sense.
Brown calls the war a disgrace and wants an exit date.
"I think we need to push and pressure the Iraqis to build the police and military," he says.
DeWine says a fixed date to pull out troops could be a recipe for disaster.
"Iraq will be this new haven for terrorists as Afghanistan was in the '90's," he says.
Certainly, the candidates are talking about other issues, but the Iraq War dominates the political landscape.
DeWine considers himself bipartisan and touts his ability to get things done by working across party lines. He cites his work to pass a law giving the Food and Drug Administration the ability to make drug manufacturers test the safety of certain medicines for children. He also worked with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to pass a law requiring judges to consider a child's safety when returning children, removed from the home, to their parents.
During an Oct. 19 debate in Toledo, both candidates tried to paint one another as ineffective lawmakers. DeWine called Brown "a do-nothing." DeWine said that in Brown's 14 years in Congress he's only sponsored four bills that have passed. Brown retorted that DeWine was "spineless" and has done nothing for the middle class.
DeWine says he's worked hard for Ohio, bringing in federal dollars to keep business here at home. But DeWine's efforts aren't focused on the working poor, Brown says.
"Mike DeWine has really turned his back on the poorest cities," Brown says, adding that the first thing Congress should tackle is an increase of the minimum wage.
DeWine supports Bush's tax cuts and claims Brown would raise taxes for everyone. Brown opposes Bush's cuts, saying they favor the rich. DeWine supports American free trade agreements across borders while Brown led the fight in the House against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, saying that this and the North American Free Trade Agreement are responsible for American job loss and the rising tide of undocumented workers.
DeWine opposes abortion unless a woman's life is in danger and objects to embryonic stem cell research. Brown supports both the research and a woman's right to choose.
The candidates agree on the need to exploit alternative energy sources. Brown says, as senator, he'd take on oil companies for price gouging and would foster the development of alternative energy in Ohio. He and DeWine both point out that Bowling Green is using wind power to generate 5 percent of its electricity and describe this as an important step toward energy independence.
"I believe this country needs to move dramatically away from our dependence on Saudi Arabia," DeWine says. "We need to have a crash program to move away from our dependence on oil."
DeWine says Republican scandals that have nothing to do with him are hurting his re-election bid, as is public opinion against the war.
"It's what we expected," he says. "It's going to be very close."
As it stands, Brown is gaining momentum and stands a solid chance of winning. But even if he loses, the anti-Bush sentiment is altering the heading of DeWine, who for so long has stayed the course. ©The senate contest between U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (L) and Sen. Mike DeWine (inset) is fueled by a variety of differences, especially over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. But with Brown ahead in recent polls, DeWine — already suspect in the eyes of some conservatives — seems to be distancing himself from the Bush administration.