There hasn’t been much of a spotlight focused on the Ohio Senate primary (May, 2010), except in Ohio– at least not yet. The Republicans have all but picked their candidate for the open seat, ex-lobbyist (for Oman and Haitian dictator Baby Doc Duvalier) and pre-Mean Jean Schmidt Congressman Rob Portman who went on to serve as Bush’s Trade Representative and then his director of OMB, two jobs at which he failed spectacularly, particularly for Ohio working families.

Today we’re going to start looking at the contest by meeting the more progressive of the two candidates, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Her opponent is Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, more a garden variety, middle-of-the-road Democrat. When Blue Dog Zack Space withdrew from consideration he endorsed Fisher. Jennifer is the first woman to have ever served as Ohio’s Secretary of State and if her winning streak continues– she’s won all three races she has contested– she’ll be the first woman to ever be elected to the Senate from Ohio. Interestingly, 58% of the voters in the 2010 primary will be women. People in Ohio know she doesn’t back down on the toughest issues, from marriage equality to Choice to prison reform, access to health care and fair labor practices– the reason in fact why she was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

Most people from outside Ohio who have heard of Jennifer know her primarily because her state’s voters tasked her with going in and cleaning up the horrendous mess Ken Blackwell had made of Ohio democracy through his shameful stint as Secretary of State. Needless to say the first thing I asked her on the phone the other day was whether or not Blackwell had actually stolen the election for Bush. I guess it’s how you define "stolen," but she isn’t as conspiratorial as I am. She won’t characterize his behavior as cheating. "I don’t think," she countered, "that he was making sufficient effort to make sure everyone was enfranchised."

This is a funny race. I get the feeling that Ohio Democrats have been on the outside looking in for so long that they automatically tend to see what’s best in each other and support each other. Jennifer seems perfectly happy to talk about her own qualifications and her own vision but has no interest whatsoever in disparaging Fisher. In fact when he ran for governor in 1998 she was his campaign’s legal counsel and she has been a supporter of his, as have many of her own current supporters. On the other hand, she does feel that she’s best equipped to handle the challenges whomever is elected to the Senate will be facing.

There’s a need to make sure Ohio is a full participant in the economic recovery. We have at least one county in the state, Huron, where the unemployment rate is almost 20%. The recession has hit Ohio harder than most of the states. We’ve lost a lot of manufacturing jobs through outsourcing and our state tax structure has changed so that it benefits business more. We’re coming from a deeper hole than other states and it’s going to take more of a fighter. I sustained 15 lawsuits in an 8-week period, mostly emanating from the GOP trying to set Ohio up so that the results of what they thought would be a close election could be litigated. I fought very hard and held my ground; I didn’t back down… and in the end it was the people of Ohio who won.

The people of Ohio will be facing a great many challenges as the economy turns around. I’m sure debating Bush’s Trade Representative and OMB Director in a state with tremendous job losses and unemployment is something to be looked forward to with relish. Jennifer identifies jobs and health care as the two overriding issues of the campaign. "So many people’s health insurance is tied to their jobs and for every one percent increase in unemployment, nationally, a million more people go without health insurance." Please join us below for a live discussion with Jennifer in the comments section and let’s find out how she intends to approach health care and the other issues foremost in our minds.