WASHINGTON — National Republicans and political analysts increasingly are signaling that they do not consider the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Jim Renacci to be a top priority in the 2018 race to keep the Senate in GOP hands.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaking to reporters Tuesday, listed races in Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida as "dead-even," and predicted those contests would be "like a knife fight in an alley."
Absent on that list was the fight between Renacci, a four-term Republican congressman from Wadsworth, and Brown, an incumbent seeking his third term. It was a strong signal Republicans are increasingly pessimistic that Renacci can win.
McConnell’s comments echo the actions of national Republicans, who are pouring money into more competitive races in Arizona, Tennessee, West Virginia and even fighting to re-elect Sen. Ted Cruz in overwhelmingly Republican Texas.
"Part of the challenge is Mitch McConnell has seats he needs to win and those are a higher priority for him," said Terry Casey, a Republican consultant in Columbus.
Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics was more blunt, saying "there are in my estimation at least 10 Senate seats likelier to change hands at this point" than Ohio.
He said it’s too soon to write off the seat entirely, saying it’s possible outside spending or an infusion of cash will change the race prior to Nov. 6. But, he said, "there’s a pretty wide agreement among people involved in the Senate campaign that Ohio is not among the top pickup opportunities for Republicans."
Renacci has lagged behind Brown in fundraising and outside groups have yet to boost his chances, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee has yet to reserve any television commercials on behalf of Renacci.
As of June 30, Brown had $11 million in the bank and had raised a total of $23 million while Renacci had raised $6.2 million and had $4 million in the bank. He has also loaned his campaign $4 million.
Leslie Shedd, a spokeswoman for Renacci, called the idea that national Republicans are ignoring Renacci "ridiculous," saying the National Republican Senatorial Campaign, the Republican National Committee and the White House have been "incredibly supportive" of Renacci, providing tons of resources behind the scenes.
She said Republicans "have an extensive" get-out-the-vote "effort in Ohio to help Rep. Renacci's campaign, with almost 40 full-time field staffers and hundreds of volunteers who have made more than 2.5 million voter contacts so far this cycle."
"In addition, President Trump and Vice President Pence have both come to Ohio to fundraise for Rep. Renacci's campaign and the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., will be in Columbus on Thursday to host a fundraiser for Rep. Renacci's campaign," Shedd said.
But privately, a number of Republicans say Renacci's chances are bleak.
"National Republicans are looking at a changing map and they are going to be forced to allocate resources that best allow them to hold a majority," said one Republican in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Given the polling (in) the state, it’s hard to make a case for national Republican money to be spent in Ohio."
A POLITICO/AARP online poll in Ohio released Wednesday showed Brown leading Renacci 47 percent to 31 percent, with 22 percent undecided. Brown had a nearly 2 to 1 lead among independents — 38 percent to 20 percent — but 42 percent of independents said they were undecided.
The poll was conducted between Sept. 2 and Tuesday by Morning Consult, which surveyed 1,592 registered voters in Ohio, including 841 who were 50 and older. The margin of error for the overall sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said the close nature of other contests mean "this is not a cycle with extra money to play around with."
She said Renacci’s late entry into the race — he announced in January after Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel dropped out because of his wife’s health problems — made it difficult.
"They tried to accomplish in a few months what I think it’s fair to say Brown’s been working on for two years, if not longer," Duffy said.
Kondik said a poll released last week by Innovation Ohio, a left-leaning think tank, put the Brown in the lead by about 4 percent. The truth he said, "is probably somewhere in between."