Donald Lambro

On his role in the Gang of 14, which undercut the GOP plan to kill the filibuster rule on judicial nominations, he pointed out that the action cleared the way for Senate approval of more than a half dozen Bush nominees.

"We didn't think we lost anything," he said. "From a conservative point of view, we were very successful."

But while DeWine faces a tough battle for his political survival in Ohio, where the Republican state government has been tarred by scandal and Gov. Bob Taft's approval score is barely in the teens, he has a secret weapon: his Democratic opponent.

Ultra-liberal Rep. Sherrod Brown has a voting record that starts with his opposition to the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, and consistent votes to cut or freeze defense and intelligence spending. He even voted against the $87 billion supplemental funds for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and against every tax cut.

"Brown's national-security record is abysmal. He voted twice against the original Patriot Act, just a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and voted twice against reauthorizing the Patriot Act," said Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Brown, in other words, is way out of the mainstream of his own party, and, in a closely divided state like Ohio, that is going to work in the GOP's favor. "He ranks more liberal than Rep. Dennis Kucinich," said Ohio GOP chairman Bob Bennett, comparing Brown to the extreme-leftist Cleveland Democrat.

Still, Bennett acknowledged the campaign will be a nail-biter: "It's going to be a $20 million race in an environment that is gloomy right now, but it's early yet."

DeWine, however, is stoic about his situation. "We all have to run in the climate that exists, and we can't do anything about the climate," he said.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.