Ohio’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race has tightened in recent weeks, with Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown snagging the support of 51 percent versus 47 percent for Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel, according to a new Cincinnati Enquirer/Ohio News Organization poll.
The results come as the two Senate contenders make a last push to woo wavering voters and turn out their core supporters in the final week before Election Day. Only 2 percent of respondents said they were undecided in the race, which could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate in 2013.
The gap between the two candidates is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, meaning the race could be even closer than the top-line numbers suggest. And it still remains fluid, with last-minute shifts possible as voters sift through the cascade of TV ads and campaign mailers.
“On the one hand, Mandel has not been able to secure a lead in publicly released polls up to this point, and the hour is getting late,” said Eric W. Rademacher, co-director of the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research, which conducted the survey. “On the other, both campaigns seem determined to put 10 years of work into the final 10 days before Election Day. This year, there will be no rest for the weary until every last vote is cast.”
The new poll results also come as the voting is well under way in Ohio; nearly 20 percent of the poll’s respondents said they had already cast their ballots. Within that group, 65 percent said they had voted for Brown, compared with 34 percent who said they voted for Mandel.
Mandel’s supporters said they were more ginned up about their candidate, though – with 54 percent saying they were “very enthusiastic” about the GOP challenger, compared with 45 percent of Brown’s supporters saying they were “very enthusiastic.”
Although Brown’s overall margin has narrowed – it was 7 percentage points in a September Ohio Newspaper Organization poll – he goes into the campaign’s last stretch with a significant advantage among female voters and independents, two key constituencies who could swing the election.
Women favor Brown by 16 percentage points, according to the survey, while men favor Mandel by 9 points. In the last Ohio Newspaper Poll, Brown’s edge among women was smaller, and the two candidates were nearly even in snagging support from men.
More than half of independents, 54 percent, said they were supporting Brown, compared with 38 percent for Mandel – a significant gain for Brown, who had a 6 percentage point edge among independents in last month’s survey.
Kelly Halbert, a 44-year-old who lives in Amberley Village, is one of those sought-after undecided voters. She describes herself as a liberal on social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, but more conservative on fiscal matters.
Halbert said she does not know enough about Mandel to have a strong opinion about him and plans to do more research before Nov. 6. But she is leaning toward the GOP candidate, in part because she sees Brown as a “party line” voter.
“Obama says ‘this is right’ so he votes for it,” said Halbert, who owns and manages rental apartments.
Grace Huffman, a 67-year-old retired nurse from Waterville, said she will vote for Mandel because she wants GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to have a Republican Senate to work with if he wins the White House.
“I look at some of these races very individually, and Sen. Brown has done some good things,” Huffman said, “but I really want to give Romney a Republican Senate.”
Kevin Hayes, a 44-year-old from Steubenville, is a life-long Democrat who plans to vote for Brown, in part because of his strong support for the auto bailout.
“Mandel doesn’t have a lot of experience,” Hayes said. “And he’s a Republican, that’s the bottom line.”
Similarly, Jennifer Corcoran, 35, an ophthalmic assistant from Springfield Township in Clark County, said she is 100 percent behind Brown.
“I don’t like Josh Mandel,” she said. “I think that he’s a talker. He just says what he thinks people want to hear.”
Kevin Taylor, 39, an attorney and sales team account manager from Monroe, said Mandel is hard to take seriously because of his youthful appearance. But he says Mandel’s message is stronger than Brown’s.
“I look at Josh Mandel and I think he ought to be in my son’s fourth-grade class,” Taylor said. “I feel like I’m votin’ for Cousin Eddie.”
The Ohio News Organization Poll – which used both land lines and cellphones – polled 1,015 likely voters across Ohio from Oct. 18 through Oct. 23. Among the randomly selected respondents, the party breakdown was 47 percent Democrats, 44 percent Republicans and 10 percent independents. The data were weighted to correct for potential sampling bias on respondents’ gender and region.
Jane Prendergast of The Cincinnati Enquirer and Darrel Rowland of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.