Ohio's Smaller Counties Aid In Obama Win

Ohio was a fiercely contested battleground state — it received a lot of attention from both candidates. Barack Obama did better in Ohio's smaller counties than expected. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio talks with Renee Montagne about how else the Buckeye State helped Obama.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're going now to another Ohio Democrat, Senator Sherrod Brown. He's with us live. Senator, good morning.

Senator SHERROD BROWN (Democrat, Ohio): Steve, good morning. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Let me pick up on what Governor Strickland was saying there about going for votes in rural areas of which Ohio still has many. What does it take for a Democratic candidate not to turn off rural voters, as they have so often in the past?

Senator BROWN: Well, I think that the races of '06 and the race this year for president - the race of '06 and in my race and the governor's race and this year in the presidential - is going into smaller communities. The governor grew up in a very rural area. I grew up in a small city, Mansfield, Ohio, a town of about 50,000. And talk about issues that matter to their future. When voters so often - people outside Ohio say Ohioans vote guns and abortion and gay marriage.

But in fact, when you go into smaller communities and you talk about the opportunities to send your son or daughter to college, talk about middle-class values, you talk about hope for the future, you talk about jobs - because everything in my state is about jobs - voters vote those economic concerns more often than not, because they know that really sort of props up the American values that we have. If people have some economic prosperity, if people can stay in the middle class, or if they are not yet there become inspired to join the middle class, other things sort of fall into place. And I think voters, given that choice - and you talk about what this future looks like for American families, for Ohio families - rural voters are not really different from big city voters.

INSKEEP: Senator Brown, when we look at the results from Ohio this time around, we do see that Obama won, of course, but not overwhelmingly. So is it fair to say that you still do represent a divided state politically?

Senator BROWN: Yeah, Ohio is - sure. And while - John Kerry won 16 counties in Ohio. When I ran for the Senate against an incumbent, I won 50 counties of the 88. Governor Strickland won more than that. And that's - into this year, Barack did not win, you know, Barack did not - he won more rural counties than John Kerry, not a lot more. But what really happened is that there's a huge voter turnout in the cities. In smaller towns, Barack did a little bit better, as he needed too. But again, you go back to - Ohio, still, it's an older state than the average - than the national numbers and the national average age. It's a whiter state.

And the fact that an African-American can come into these communities and do as well as he did speaks volumes about the progress our country's made. I mean, it was inspiring. You go to Logan, and you go to Chillicothe, and you go to Mansfield, and you go to Bryan, Ohio, in small towns, medium-sized cities, and you see all kinds of white voters cheering on this African-American candidate - in absentia because it was often John Glenn or someone else. It was a remarkable inspiring thing.

INSKEEP: Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, I want to ask about the way you will be returning in January to an enlarged Democratic majority in the United States Senate as well as the House of Representatives. I'm sure you're thinking about the opportunities. But are you also thinking about how not to blow this opportunity with Democrats in control?

Senator BROWN: Yeah, and already I absolutely, absolutely answer that question. When George Bush was elected in 1980 - in 2000, he said, we have a mandate to do X, Y, and Z. Barack Obama last night didn't say that. He said we need to reach out. And I will particularly listen to people with whom I disagree, he said. And I'm a progressive Democrat. We ran on progressive values. We need to take this country forward. That's what progressive means. But we've got to do it bipartisanly.

We've got to - if we govern the way that they did, sort of my way or the highway, where George Bush even dictating to his own party, my way or the highway. A whole lot of his party members took the fall for that. And the country was hurt because of that sort of - that message of governing. We can't do that. We won't do that. We're going to follow progressive ideals, not the sort of betrayal of the middle class that this crowd in Washington did where they let the drug companies...

INSKEEP: OK.

Senator BROWN: (Unintelligible) Medicare law. This is going to be a change. We're going to do it bipartisanly. But we're going to be progressive about it.

INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much.

Senator BROWN: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Sherrod Brown is a United States senator for Ohio.

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