My husband, U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, is running for the Senate, but it can feel like he's about to march into battle as I answer the same question, day in and day out, across the state of Ohio.
"Aren't you afraid?" people ask, usually before Sherrod gives a speech or I show up on his behalf. "Aren't you afraid of what they can do to you?"
Every time we hear this question, we see what a chokehold the politics of fear can have on so many decent people - from university professors to small-town farmers, from stay-at-home mothers to corporate executives. They want to believe in fair elections and a campaign of ideas, but they can see what's coming by who's already laid tracks in this bellwether state.
So far, President Bush has shown up twice in Ohio to raise money for Sherrod's opponent. Vice President Cheney and Karl Rove, the mastermind of some of the nastiest campaigns in recent history, have made high-profile visits here. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell is pulling out one hat trick after another to impede voter registration -- even as he runs for governor.
So, it's not hard to understand why so many Ohioans have nervously pulled us aside or stood bravely in a crowded room to ask if we're scared of what "they" can do to us.
We are unequivocal in our response:
We are not afraid.
To be honest, it took us a while to get there.
Sherrod decided to run for the Senate after months of private discussions that included weaving every imaginable worse-case scenario. These were late-night talks in the wake of the 2004 swift boating of John Kerry and nine-hour waits at the polls in parts of Ohio, so it wasn't hard to conjure up our own boatload of ugly possibilities.
Some sacrifices were clear. Both of us would give up jobs we loved: Sherrod would have to leave a safe Congressional seat; I would have to take a leave of absence as a columnist at Ohio's largest newspaper.
We were newlyweds, too, having married only the year before after our children walked us down the aisle. We didn't have a long history of good times together to get us through the bad ones. We'd never even campaigned together, my being a journalist and his having no real race in the time I'd known him.
What we did have, though, was a devotion to each other and the same passion for economic and social justice. People often ask me why on earth two longtime single parents would suddenly decide to disrupt their entire way of life and marry in middle age. I always tell them falling in love with Sherrod was one of the easiest things I've ever done.
Countless reporters have described my 53-year-old husband as "boyish," athletic and quick-witted, and he's all that, but what convinced me to agree to the rough-and-tumble of a political marriage was the Sherrod I see when no one's watching. I come from the working class, where both my parents wore their bodies out and died in their 60s because they vowed their children would have easier lives. Those are the people Sherrod has been fighting for all of his adult life, and they never fall off his radar. I see that in every aspect of his life, from the big tips he leaves for servers and valet parkers to his refusal to accept the Congressional medical insurance because so many Americans have no healthcare at all.
The people Sherrod has been fighting for throughout his career need him now more than ever. And whenever I start to feel a little sorry for myself because my back aches from too many hours on the road or I miss my job or I haven't seen a movie in months, I meet someone who reminds me why Sherrod's race is so important.
Last week, this jarring reminder showed up in the face of a young mother who is recovering from breast cancer.
A soft-brimmed hat covered her bald head as she sat across from me with her four-year-old daughter at a potluck dinner in Washington County in Appalachia. Our conversation was the usual jumble of topics whenever two women get to spend a little time together. She talked about her hopes and dreams for her little girl, mentioned that she had just finished her last radiation treatment and that maybe now she'd stop feeling so sick all the time. "My problems are nothing compared to so many around here," she said, gesturing around the room. "People need to feel some hope."
As we were leaving, she handed a check for $200 to a member of our campaign staff and then smiled sheepishly. "Can you wait till Friday to cash it?" she asked. "I don't get paid until then."
That is why Sherrod is running for the U.S. Senate.
And that is why we are not afraid.
Connie Schultz is a writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist from Ohio . She is currently on a leave of absence to help her husband, Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), in his race for the U.S. Senate. Earlier this year, Random House released Connie's first book, "Life Happens: And Other Unavoidable Truths," a collection of columns about kids, dogs, politics, men, women, and how it works except when it doesn't. Her next book, about her husband's Senate race, will be published in Spring 2007. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.