Mona Charen

When New York's District 9 went Republican, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, explained that the district, which has been in Democratic hands since 1923, is "a very difficult district for Democrats." By that standard, the entire nation may go Republican in 2012.

Democrats hold a 3-seat majority in the U.S. Senate. But two-thirds of the contested 2012 seats are in Democratic hands. Having to defend so many seats would be challenging at any time (funds have to be spread more thinly), but with a president whose approval ratings are sinking steadily, the prospects for continued Democratic dominance look even worse. Most prognosticators put North Dakota in the likely Republican pick-up column, while Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Missouri, Virginia, West Virginia and Nevada are considered toss-ups. Ohio, where first-term Senator Sherrod Brown is seeking reelection, is considered a "lean Democrat" race. We'll see.

Brown has won one contest already: the race to the left. When the National Journal rated U.S. senators, Brown was ranked as "most liberal," beating out even avowed Socialist Bernie Sanders for the honor. Brown supported Obamacare, for example, but only reluctantly because he favored a single-payer, Canadian model.

As in 2000, 2004 and 2008, Ohio is likely to be a key swing state in the presidential contest, so the senate race assumes even more importance. And that race is shaping up to be a classic liberal/conservative clash.

Brown's likely opponent, Josh Mandel, has one thing in common with the sitting senator -- both were considered too young looking when they entered politics. In 1975, a year after graduating from college, Brown was elected to the Ohio legislature. Another member, mistaking him for a page, gave him a dollar and asked him to fetch a cup of coffee. Brown has since spent his entire career in politics, winning the senate seat in 2006 -- a very bad year for Republicans.

The story for Josh Mandel is a little different. He first ran for and won a seat on his town council when he was 26 -- but looked about 16. He was carded everywhere he went. He has since served two tours in Iraq as a Marine intelligence specialist -- one while a sitting member of the Ohio legislature. While he still looks much younger than his 33 years, he doesn't sound it.

Mandel was inspired to join the Marines out of gratitude to this country. He is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. His grandmother, Fernanda, was an Italian Jew who was hidden by a Catholic family throughout the war. The blessings of liberty are not just an abstraction for Mandel.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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