COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Nowhere is as much money being spent on a Senate race this year as in Ohio, where liberal Democrat Sherrod Brown is seeking a second term, his fate to some degree dependent on how well President Barack Obama does in the state's tossup presidential contest.
Outside interest groups are flooding the state with money. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, business and conservative groups are pouring money into the state in support of Republican challenger Josh Mandel; and labor, environmental and other liberal groups are spending on behalf of Brown.
"The only reason Josh Mandel is in this race is because his secretly funded special interest friends have spent $15.2 million against Sherrod - more than they have spent against any Senate candidate in the country - to mislead Ohioans and lie about Sherrod's strong record of fighting for middle class families," said Sadie Weiner, press secretary for the Friends of Sherrod Brown campaign.
Mandel's campaign, meanwhile, seeks money to get out its message - which largely criticizes Brown's political record.
"The more voters learn about Sherrod Brown's record of failure in the Senate as a rubber stamp for President Obama, the more they want to replace him with new leaders like Josh Mandel who will put Ohioans first," said Travis Considine, communications director for Josh Mandel For U.S. Senate. "Sherrod Brown's Washington allies also clearly understand the electoral danger he faces, which is why radical environmental groups and Harry Reid's Super PAC have stepped forward with a deep-pocketed expenditure on his behalf."
Crossroads GPS, an independent group associated with Republican strategist Karl Rove, the chamber and other Mandel backers have spent a combined $15 million against Brown, and they plan to spend $6.7 million more before November.
Their goal is to return the Senate to GOP control after six years of being run by Democrats. They need a net pickup of four seats - three if Republican Mitt Romney wins the White House - and one of their juicier targets is Brown, who voted 100 percent with the AFL-CIO in 2010 but only 9 percent with the Chamber of Commerce.
Environmental, labor and political committees lining up against Mandel, the Republican state treasurer, have spent a combined $3.1 million. Even after outraising Mandel's campaign committee by $5 million, Brown has been significantly overspent.
Brandon Twyman, 22, a movie theater worker in Columbus, views all the ads as a waste of good TV time.
"People want to get their point across, I understand that, but at the same time you're wasting millions of dollars where millions of dollars could go somewhere else," he said. "To me, I don't think it's necessary."
Brown's surprise victory six years ago in this closely divided swing state made him the first Democrat the state had sent to the Senate since former astronaut John Glenn's retirement in 1999. A well-known Ohio figure, he's maintained a single-digit lead over Mandel in polls, but he's also struggling to break 50 percent and could be vulnerable if Obama falters badly in November.
His critics try to tie Brown with presidential priorities least popular in the closely divided state - including the health care overhaul and energy policies they paint as anti-coal. One of the most recent TV spots funded by Crossroads GPS asks: "Who's the biggest supporter of the Obama agenda in Ohio? It's Sherrod Brown."
Before Obama bounced back in the polls, Mandel called Brown a rubber stamp for the president's policies.
Brown defends his vote for Obama's health care overhaul and his support for the auto industry bailout. In a recent ad, he kicked the tire of an auto made of Ohio parts and noted that the bailout had saved more than 800,000 Ohio jobs. It turned out the tire he kicked wasn't made in the state.
Even before the outside spending, the two Senate campaigns have raised a record-setting $25 million - $15 million for Brown and $10 million for Mandel. That's more than the entire amount spent in each of the state's last two Senate races.