Calming the whirlwind

Ben Breier

Schultz plans to return to work in wake of husband’s Senatorial bid

Pulitizer Prize-winning columnist and Kent State alumna Connie Schultz stands on stage with her husband, Senator-elect Sherrod Brown (not pictured), Tuesday night in the Cleveland Public Auditorium. Schultz took a leave of absence from writing for the Pla

Credit: Jason Hall

For the first time in her professional career, Connie Schultz saw an election from the perspective of a candidate’s wife – and a journalist.

But as Schultz, a Kent State alumna, watched the campaign of her husband, senator-elect Sherrod Brown, she loathed what incumbent Republican Sen. Mike DeWine was saying about him.

“As Sherrod’s wife, I hated it – I hated every second of it,” she said. “The man ran a very nasty, lie-riddled campaign against my husband.”

As a journalist, a completely different set of issues plagued her mind. During the last two weeks of the campaign, DeWine alleged someone in Brown’s office during his term as Secretary of State was a drug dealer.

“DeWine refused to name the employee, and reporters kept running with it,” she said. “I considered it a true failing on the part of journalists at that point. You’re just carrying a candidate’s water.”

It wasn’t the only time during Brown’s campaign where Schultz felt her faith in the media falter.

The misleading lead

While several media outlets reported the race between Brown and DeWine was close, Schultz called it a “myth of the media” and maintained Brown had a grip on the election by late July due to a doctored attack ad involving the Twin Towers, which backfired on DeWine.

“The media continued to describe the race as close, even when the Dispatch showed a 24-point lead,” she said, adding that DeWine never recovered from the ad. “He kept attacking, and Sherrod talked about ideas.”

Surviving the blogosphere

Schultz said one of the toughest moments in the campaign took place during the primary election against Paul Hackett. She said bloggers were ripping Brown apart because of his late entry in the race.

“I was the hold-up for getting Sherrod into the race,” she said. “With being married for only a year-and-a-half, I was concerned with the impact on my marriage and my career.”

When the couple began the campaign, they agreed Brown would run as a true progressive and not compromise on any of his positions.

“Being a progressive in Ohio meant that he was in line with most middle-class Americans,” Schultz said.

Irrelevant endorsements

The only newspaper editorial board to endorse Brown was the Toledo Blade – even Schultz’s own paper, the Plain Dealer, sponsored her husband’s opponent.

And while DeWine attempted to use this to generate support in his advertisements, Schultz said it made no difference in the election. Schultz believes editorial boards should only endorse issues, and not candidates.

“It really undermines the reporter,” she said. “Editorial boards will often make endorsements that represent corporate interests and don’t reflect what they are running in their own papers.”

Fundraising follies

While Brown was finishing up work in Washington, D.C., Schultz spent a lot of time raising funds for her husband’s campaign. Despite the fact that they were working for the same cause, the distance between them was a huge mountain for the couple to climb.

“It’s a life nobody can prepare you for,” she said. “As hard we thought it’d be, it was harder still … we’re both single parents who went through difficult divorces.”

She added that generating money at the beginning of the campaign was difficult because people didn’t always remember Brown from his term as Secretary of State. But he was always on the phone.

“Sherrod made a minimum of 200 calls a week,” Schultz said. “He always met the goal, and he usually exceeded it.”

The memorable mission

During a fundraising drive that took her through Marietta, Schultz was introduced to a woman in her mid-30s who had just finished breast cancer treatment. Schultz said the woman, who had a 4-year-old daughter, was frightened for her future.

At a potluck dinner with about 150 people, Schultz experienced what she described as “one of the most humbling moments of the campaign.”

Schultz recounted the incident:

“Don’t worry about me, I’m going to be just fine,” the woman at the dinner said. “But these women around the room — they need help.”

The woman then issued Schultz a contribution in the form of a $200 check.

“I hope you don’t mind that I had to post-date it — I don’t get paid until Friday,” the woman said.

Declaring victory

When Schultz won her Pulitzer Prize in 2005, Brown said the couple would never have a night like that again.

He was wrong.

The couple changed clothes and shared a private moment in their Cleveland hotel suite before making their way over to the Cleveland Public Auditorium. As they walked out of their suite, they were ambushed by a bevy of cameras.

“CBS was calling Sherrod the winner,” she said. “It was a moment where we looked at each other — they were flashing away, and you can’t think about all the cameras. We couldn’t believe it was finally happening.”

Schultz referred to their achievements as the holy grail of their respective professions.

“Most journalists want to win the Pulitzer, and most politicians want to become a senator,” she said. “And nobody wants to hear your problems.”

Back to work

Schultz plans to return to work at the Plain Dealer in January, but said she hopes to finish her second book in the time between the election’s end and resuming her columns. She only plans on writing about the election in her column when she can use it to provide inside insight.

She also refuses to write a return column to the paper — she finds them to be “annoying as hell.”

“We’ll see what’s going on in the news when I get back there, and that’s what I’ll write about,” she said.

Schultz also plans to spend some time at home — a place she hasn’t gotten to see much since she’s been on the campaign trail.

And while some people may refer to Brown and Schultz as a power couple, Schultz said that isn’t how the two see each other.

“Right now, I am sitting on my favorite love seat, my pug Gracie is on my lap, and I’m home for the first time in ages,” she said. “CNN is on in the background, and I’m keeping an eye on Virginia.

“As soon as I hang up with you, I’m going to get a fire going in the fireplace. That doesn’t sound like a power couple to me — it sounds like an average married couple that’s really tired today.”

Contact public affairs reporter Ben Breier at [email protected].