By Dan Sewell
The Republican challenger hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said Thursday the federal health care overhaul is a pivotal issue in their campaign.
State Treasurer Josh Mandel, beginning a two-day swing through southern and eastern Ohio, said Brown provided crucial support for President Barack Obama's legislation, while he would push for a repeal of the overhaul upheld last week by the U.S. Supreme Court. Mandel said he wants changes focused on doctors, patients and the private sector, not government.
"It's a defining issue for our campaign," Mandel told The Associated Press. "Sherrod Brown held in his hands the power to stop government-run health care. If he would have had the courage to stand up to his party and voted against it, it would never have passed. He voted party line. ... He believes Washington knows best on health care."
Speaking to nearly 20 Brown County Republican activists having eggs, sausage gravy and other breakfasts at the Country Inn, Mandel repeated that Brown "cast the deciding vote" on health care. The independent ad-checking group PolitiFact has disputed that claim, which Republicans have also made against Democratic senators in other states.
When the ruling came out last week, Brown repeated his praise for the health care overhaul, saying it improves coverage for older people, children and people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The ruling should "put an end to partisan bickering, so we can continue our focus on jobs and improving the economy," Brown said in a statement.
Ohioans voted heavily against the law in a largely symbolic referendum last November, and polls have indicated it continues to be unpopular in the state. Whether the Supreme Court ruling quiets opposition as an issue is subject to debate.
Brown County Republican Party leader Paul Hall said he thinks the ruling and calls for repeal will motivate the party's base and tea party activists.
"It puts a tremendous amount of gunpowder back into the issue," Hall said.
Retired military and civilian defense worker Steve Shultz agreed. He said the health care changes "are going to be extremely detrimental to the United States."
Mandel called them "a job killer."
Mandel wore combat boots, a reminder that the youthful-looking candidate -- "I'm 34. I look like I'm 19," he joked -- served in Iraq as a Marine. He said he was a strong supporter for gun rights, a popular position in a mostly rural Appalachian section of Ohio with many hunters and military veterans.
He also called for reducing government barriers to drilling and other energy exploration.
Brown, a longtime congressman who unseated a Republican incumbent in 2006, has consistently led in statewide polls. Mandel said he thinks he is in good position to defeat Brown with four months left before election, by continuing to become better-known while highlighting Brown's record and promising to "change Washington."
Mandel is a former state legislator who was elected in 2010.