A flood of outside spending has quietly moved the Ohio Senate race from a second-tier contest to a single-digit competition.
“We know it’s going to get closer, and the numbers will tighten,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said. “If you’re outspent 6-to-1, it will have an impact.”
Over the past several months, the Buckeye State has become one of this cycle’s battlegrounds in terms of early spending by outside groups. While allies of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) have spent $1.1 million to boost his re-election, conservative groups — led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — spent more than $6.5 million to aid his opponent, state Treasurer Josh Mandel. The chamber’s spending accounts for more than half of the outside group spending on the right.
The political consequences have been brutal for Brown, who has slowly watched his poll numbers slide.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll, released last week, showed Brown ahead of Mandel 46 percent to 40 percent.
“It’s 6 points because they spent $5 million running ads against me since March of 2011. It’s amazing I’m not behind with that kind of money,” Brown said in a Monday phone interview. “No one in Ohio has had this kind of money spent against them this early — not even close.”
Democrats have said since the beginning of the cycle that they expected the Ohio race to be competitive — but they are surprised the contest has become this close at this point in the cycle.
Close Senate races are rare in Ohio. The state boasts a reputation as a battleground for presidential contests, but there hasn’t been a Senate race decided by a close margin since 1976. Since then, every Senate race victor has won by a margin of at least 8.5 points.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for Senate operatives, who increasingly view Ohio as key to control of the chamber.
Republicans need to pick up a net of four seats to win control of the Senate. Roll Call rates seven Senate races as Tossups. But out of the eight races in the next competitive tier — those deemed as Leans Republican, Leans Democratic or Leans Independent — the public independent polls are closing fastest in Ohio.
A February Quinnipiac poll showed Brown ahead by 13 points. Other public polls have shown a similar trend in the race tightening over the past several weeks.
It’s one of the reasons outside groups set their sights on this race early. It’s a state where cash-flush groups knew they could make a difference before the presidential race dominates the airwaves.