When Sherrod Brown ran for re-election in 2012, he had a constant refrain: outside groups were out to get him.
This year, though,outside groups are either on his side or sitting out the race.
Outside groups are organizations that don’t necessarily contribute directly to the campaigns, but instead spend money on TV ads and direct mail backing or opposing candidates. In the current funding cycle, such groups have spent more than $4.2 million supporting Brown, compared to $501,364 spent to defeat him, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.
Among the groups supporting Brown are the Communications Workers of America, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Planned Parenthood and the National Association of Realtors.
By comparison, the silence around Republican Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, has been relatively deafening: Outside groups have spent $1,824 supporting Renacci and $53,684 against him, according to the center.
Those backing Renacci — largely by opposing Brown — include #MeTooOhio, a group created to highlight Brown’s 1986 divorce and the National Rifle Association.
The NRA, however, has invested just $13,612 into the race compared to the $526,485 the group spent in 2012.
The Brown campaign used the NRA money as a fundraising vehicle, saying in an email: as an example of outside groups attempting to block his re-election. In a fundraising email: “The NRA Political Victory Fund is spending money to boost multi-millionaire Congressman Jim Renacci and defeat Sherrod. If we don’t raise $10,000 before tomorrow night, we could be forced to take our ads off the air.”
“Special interests, the Brown campaign said, “are pulling out all the stops to make sure Sherrod loses his job.”
But the special interests actually appear to favor Brown this time around.
The largest amount of outside spending on his behalf has come from the National Association of Realtors, which spent $3.3 million supporting Brown; and the New American Jobs Fund, a coalition of the United Steel Workers and the League of Conservation Voters, which spent $745,536.
The National Association of Realtors, which has spent nearly $4.3 million backing Democrats and nearly $8.3 million backing Republicans this cycle, aired an ad backing Brown that lauded him for “making housing more affordable and accessible.”
Brown is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee.
#MeToo Ohio, the largest outside group weighing in on Renacci’s behalf, is based in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. The group, formed earlier this year, spent $407,004 in ads opposing Brown by bringing up his divorce records. In one ad, Brown is accused of “physically abusing his ex-wife.”
The ad refers to Brown’s 1986 divorce from his then-wife Larke Recchie, who obtained a restraining order against him after saying he bullied her and shoved her. The issue frequently comes up in Brown’s election campaigns, and Recchie has since said only angry words were exchanged and has campaigned for Brown and held fundraisers for him.
RELATED: Sherrod Brown ad mocks Renacci for flying on strip club owner’s private plane
Tracking where outside groups are spending their money is often a sign of whether a race is competitive. This year groups have spent far more money in Senate races in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri and Texas than in Ohio.
In Arizona, outside spending between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally has already surpassed $44 million. In Missouri, it’s passed $60 million.
The Brown-Renacci contest is “not considered a competitive race,” said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. “The money’s all going toward the governor’s race, which does remain competitive.”
The relative lack of outside money is in contrast to Brown’s previous Senate bids.
In 2012, outside groups spent at least $16.2 million against Brown and $7.2 million supporting his opponent, Republican Josh Mandel, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Outside groups spent $3.4 million backing Brown that year and nearly $11.8 million opposing Mandel.
In 2006, the year Brown unseated then-Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, outside groups spent $4.8 million supporting Brown and $5.9 million opposing him. Outside groups spent $753,350 backing DeWine and $4.4 million opposing him, according to the center.
By the numbers
$4.2M: Outside money favoring Sen. Sherrod Brown this campaign financing cycle.
$501,364: Outside money opposing Brown.
$1,824: Outside money supporting Rep. Jim Renacci.
$53,684: Outside money opposing Renacci.
Source: Center for Responsive Politics
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