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Ohio Senate Race Evolves Into Battleground

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Outside groups backing the GOP opponent of Sen. Sherrod Brown are flooding the race with early money, making the contest more competitive.

The chamber has spent about
$3.8 million so far on the race, according to a source who monitors ad buys. Crossroads GPS has poured in about $800,000 to target Brown, plus an additional $2 million for the presidential race in Ohio.

Comparatively, only two outside groups have aired ads on Brown’s behalf. The League of Conservation Voters spent $516,000 in late March, and Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, spent about $630,000 on TV ads through this week.

Mandel, 34, welcomes the spending discrepancy.

“While we do not coordinate with them at all, we’re obviously glad they’ve chosen to target Ohio as one of the key states to turn America in a better direction,” Mandel said in a phone interview. “It’s not lost on me that we’re one of the few races in the country where Harry Reid’s super PAC is spending money.”

But the discrepancy was enough to force Brown, 59, to respond with his own negative spot hitting Mandel last month. It’s somewhat rare for an incumbent to kick off his campaign with negative ads early in the cycle — especially if he is still considered the frontrunner.  

Both candidates are financially armed in their own right. At the end of March, Brown reported $6.2 million in cash on hand, while Mandel had just about $1 million less than that.

In the face of an increasingly competitive race, Democrats view their task to be defining Mandel as quickly as possible. Later in the year, there’s a strong chance the Senate race will be drowned out by a highly competitive national race.

“You need to define Mandel pretty quickly,” one seasoned Ohio Democratic operative said. “They’re basically running against not-Sherrod-Brown at this point. And in this case, he’s not well-defined. The calvary needs to come and help Sherrod.”

National Democrats allow that Ohio voters aren’t yet familiar with Mandel or his short political career. Local press has reported disparaging stories about Mandel’s hiring practices, his political ambitions and his unwillingness to answer their questions. And it was reported Monday that federal investigators have looked into one of Mandel’s large donors, but there is no allegation of wrongdoing on his part.

National Democrats argue that the average voter is not aware of Mandel’s record yet and that when they are educated, the poll numbers will move.

In the meantime, Brown’s allies remain nervous that the race could become an unexpected Tossup contest.

“If you go back 10 or 12 months, there were even folks on our side who said this wasn’t going to be a race,” said Tim Waters, the political director for the United Steelworks and a Brown supporter. “We never believed that — and when we saw the money getting dumped in there, we were justified.”

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