Outside Groups Target Close Ohio Races

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Ohio is getting more than its share of the money being spent in the midterm elections, a huge chunk of it from groups not connected to the campaigns themselves.

The state is the scene of races for the U.S. Senate, the governor's mansion and several congressional seats held by Democrats but where Republicans, and their backers, are looking for victory. One of those congressional races is in Cincinnati; the other a sprawling district in the state's southeast.

It is crunch time for campaigns and for those spending money to influence hotly contested races. And it's time for some candidates to get bad news — among them Rep. Steve Driehaus, a freshman Democrat from Cincinnati.

"This week, we found out that the Democratic Congressional Campaign committee, the DCCC, has pulled funding for TV in the 1st Congressional District in Ohio," he said in a video message to his supporters.

'Hard-Nosed' Decisions

Driehaus is in a rematch with former Republican Rep. Steve Chabot. The incumbent says the DCCC is walking away from someone who cast tough votes on behalf of President Obama's agenda.

But Ohio State University political scientist Paul Beck says it's simply the party trying to make the most of its available cash. "They begin doing triage. And it requires some really hard-nosed, cold decisions to maybe back away from investments in candidates whom they like, but who they think probably aren't going to win," Beck said.

As money is taken away from the race in Cincinnati, it's being poured into the 18th Congressional District to the east, where two-term Democrat Zack Space is trying to hold back a challenge by Republican State Sen. Bob Gibbs.

The two men attended a candidates forum at the public library in Nelsonville, Ohio, on Wednesday where the rhetoric was familiar.

Space warned of a return to Bush-era economic policies. "The alternative is to go back to watching out for the people that put us into this crisis," he said. "Now do we want to go back?"

Gibbs said the nation is on the wrong track. "If you want bigger government, higher taxes, more regulation, don't vote for me," he said.

Outside Groups

But much of the battle is taking place on the airwaves. Some of that Democratic Party money not being spent in Cincinnati will now help Space instead.

Space is still considered the favorite in his contest, but it's close, and some of the nonparty groups backing Republicans have jumped in. "Somewhere in the halls of Congress, Zach Space lost his way," says one ad being aired on local radio. "He pledged allegiance to Nancy Pelosi and forgot the folks back home.

"Zach supported Pelosi's wasteful stimulus bill and bailouts for Wall Street big shots."

The ad was paid for by American Crossroads, an outside group with ties to Republican strategist Karl Rove. It's one of several nonparty ads being run in the district.

Ohio's 18th District shows how Republicans and their backers have expanded the playing field this year, with nearly all the fighting taking place on Democratic turf. A new study by the Wesleyan Media Project shows that groups favoring Republicans are outspending Democrats by a margin of nearly 9-1.

At the candidate forum in Nelsonville, Democrat Space reacted to the outside money, much of it from anonymous donors. "We have to have full disclosure," he said. "Without it, it's a perversion of the democratic process. And what I worry about is that, again, this could be the beginning and not the apex of this problem."

Gibbs wouldn't say how much these ads may be helping him, stressing that campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with nonparty groups. When pressed, he added: "Hey, I'm not turning it down! You know, we're just doing some polling right now and things are looking pretty good.

"And that's all I'm going to say on that. But I think you're going to see a wave coming here in 20 days."

But the wave of cash has already arrived. It's actual total and influence to be tallied up after Election Day.

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