From the GOP standpoint, the race for Ohio's Senate seat between Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance just got real.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee with close ties to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has set aside $28 million for a statewide radio and TV ad campaign set to launch after Labor Day. The ads represent a 460% increase in spend on the race so far, with just $5 million spent by Republicans on Vance's Senate campaign to date.
The $33 million total outlay would put Ohio third among states where the SLF has spent the most money, behind Georgia's $37.1 million and Pennsylvania's $34.1 million and ahead of North Carolina's $27.6 million, Wisconsin's $15.2 million, Nevada's $15.1 million and Arizona's $14.4 million.
Until now, the races in the six other states had all been considered more competitive than in Ohio, where first-time candidate Vance and longtime congressman Ryan are running to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman. But recent poll results show a close race, with Vance leading Ryan by three percentage points according to an Emerson College poll, and Ryan up by three based on his campaign's internal poll. Where Ryan may have an advantage is in fundraising, which has allowed the campaign to air unrebutted ads throughout the summer.
“They don’t necessarily have to spend all this money, but to me it’s a red flag that they really are worried,” University of Virginia political analyst and Ohio native Kyle Kondik tells Cleveland.com, noting that the spend increase is likely to change national perceptions of the race. “It’s worth noting that maybe in October, Republicans feel better about this and SLF cuts back its ad spending. That’s happened before [in other states in previous years].”
Kondik also points out that SLF, as a federal Super PAC, is able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, so Ohio's big spend doesn’t necessarily mean they’re re-routing money from other states. “Would Republicans prefer to spend this money somewhere else? The answer is almost certainly yes, and if Rob Portman were running for re-election, they almost certainly wouldn’t have had to have done this,” he says.
Also driving the PAC's big spend is the timing of the campaign and the nature of Ohio itself. With more media markets than most states, it is generally more expensive to advertise there. As the ad reservations are coming later in the campaign season, advertising time is scarcer and therefore more expensive.