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President Obama's health care law survived a challenge before the Supreme Court. Now lawmakers who voted for that law are working to survive this fall's election. Today, President Obama campaigns in Ohio, a state that will be fiercely contested in the fall in the general election and also a state where a Democratic senator is working to keep his job.
Senator Sherrod Brown strongly backed the health care law. His challenger, state treasurer Josh Mandel, opposes it and has help from outside groups. NPR's David Welna followed the two Senate candidates in Cleveland.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: It's midmorning on Cleveland's West Side and Senator Sherrod Brown faces a gaggle of reporters and onlookers in a corridor lined with fruit and vegetable stalls.
SENATOR SHERROD BROWN: Thank you all for joining us at one of America's and Ohio's and Cleveland's greatest institutions - the West Side Market.
WELNA: Brown's come to this 100-year-old market on official business, touting a federal grant that helps vendors accept food stamps. But later in an interview, the talk quickly turns to his reelection campaign and to Josh Mandel, the GOP challenger whose name Brown never mentions.
BROWN: The difference between me and my opponent, by and large, is that I wake up every day trying to figure out how do we create jobs. And my opponent wakes up every day and figures out what office to run for next, and that really is the contrast. I'm doing my job every day. That's why it's no surprise when you pick a day to come out here that I'm doing my work, not campaigning.
WELNA: Brown is one of 60 senators who voted for the new health care law, and he's pleased most of it was upheld by the Supreme Court. But when asked whether he'll now campaign on that widely unpopular law, Brown demurs.
BROWN: My view is there are so many good things in it, I supported it and will continue to, but it's important that the politics stop here, that instead of people trying to get political benefit from this, that we move on and focus on what we ought to be doing. That's job creation.
WELNA: Some shoppers say they'd like Brown to talk more about the health care law, including Nancy Wassen, a Democrat from Ashland, Ohio.
NANCY WASSEN: He voted for it. I think he kind of has to at least include that in what he talks about.
WELNA: Others, though, advise caution. Retired teacher Laura Dorrie describes herself as an undecided independent.
LAURA DORRIE: Right now there are a lot of people that are against Obamacare, so I'm not sure that that's the wisest decision to make.
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WELNA: There was a big turnout at yesterday's 4th of July parade in the working-class Cleveland suburb of Parma, which President Obama plans to visit today. He'll get there on the heels of Republican Senate candidate Mandel.
JOSH MANDEL: I'm Josh Mandel. Nice to meet you. Thank you for your support.
WELNA: Josh Mandel is 34 years old but could easily be mistaken for a teenager. This former Marine intelligence officer did two tours in Iraq, and he's a fast-rising star in the Republican Party and a Tea Party favorite.
In an interview, Mandel says three things are on his mind when he gets up in the morning.
MANDEL: Being a good husband, being a good state treasurer, and going to Washington to change our country.
WELNA: To do that, Mandel says he'll keep reminding voters of Sherrod Brown's vote for the health care law.
MANDEL: Sherrod Brown held in his hands the power to stop this government-run health care act, but instead of stopping it, he cast the deciding vote on the federal government's takeover of health care.
WELNA: The independent fact-checking group PolitiFact has labeled that deciding-vote charge false. It's not the only questionable claim Mandel's been making. He also says he's the underdog when it comes to campaign spending.
MANDEL: At the end of the day, you know, Sherrod Brown's going to have a lot more money than we're going to have, but this race ain't about money.
WELNA: Not about money? Records provided by the Brown campaign show outside groups backing Mandel have spent nearly five times more than groups backing Brown. Ken Goldstein of Kantar Media Group tracks TV ad spending in the Ohio Senate race.
KEN GOLDSTEIN: You have certainly more money being spent by the Republicans. And most of that is due to the group spending that is being done on Josh Mandel's part.
WELNA: Nearly $10 million worth of TV ads paid for by outside groups and favoring Mandel have already aired in Ohio, including this one from Crossroads GPS.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's no surprise Sherrod Brown voted for Obamacare. He supports Obama's agenda 95 percent of the time.
WELNA: Groups such as Crossroads GPS don't have to disclose their donors. Sherrod Brown suspects the money's coming from business groups opposed to his union-friendly voting record.
BROWN: I mean, I know who doesn't like me from outside the state, but I think this money is really all about - this - without that outside money for my opponent, this wouldn't be much of a race.
WELNA: Recent polls show Brown ahead of Mandel by single digits, a gap that's narrowing as outside money continues to pour in.
David Welna, NPR News, Cleveland.
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