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Will Buckeye State Give GOP Black Eye?

As the GOP scrambles nationwide to retain its majority, scandal-ridden Ohio appears to be falling off the financial radar screen.

Television time is being forsaken for House candidates. And national promotions of the state's gubernatorial candidate by the Republican Governors Association popped up, then disappeared.

Ohio Republicans are trying to regroup amid a guilty plea Friday by U.S. Rep. Bob Ney in a Washington influence-peddling case and the trial of GOP fundraiser Tom Noe — accused of stealing from a state investment in rare coins — set to begin next week. Their national counterparts are following suit, focusing every last penny on races they believe they can win.

Those include U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine's seat, which is being hotly contested by U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown; U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce's seat, which Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy is seeking; and the seat Ney is vacating, which the party hopes state Rep. Joy Padgett can win over Democrat Zach Space.

"As races change, dynamics change," said Ed Patru, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "We're not going to continue spending money in races where we're significantly ahead and, conversely, in some races if it looks to be out of reach, you're not going to dump a bunch of money into it."

In recent days, the committee pulled advertising it had planned in the race between Republican Craig Foltin and Democrat Betty Sutton for Brown's open House seat, which the GOP initially thought it could wrest from Democrats. The committee also viewed the seat being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, who is running for governor, as a potential gain, but has backed away from that hope.

Strickland has held a double-digit lead in the polls in that race, which is drawing national attention because the winner's party will carry an edge into the 2008 presidential election. A narrow win in Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed for re-election in 2004.

Without mentioning specifics, Patru said open seats have been judged less important than those held by incumbents. He said the committee is still optimistic about 10 to 12 seats that are open or held by Democrats nationwide, and believes Democrats have also adjusted their early expectations.

Meanwhile, after an aggressive early advertising push, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state, has disappeared from the airwaves — a surprising turn of events for the leading candidate on the party's ticket.

A one-time strategy called for the RGA to air its own ads in support of Blackwell, but the governors' group appears to have written off the state.

In a letter to supporters earlier this month, the group's chairman, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, listed Iowa, Maine, Oregon, Illinois, Arkansas and Michigan as the only states with targeted governor's races.

RGA executive director Phil Musser said the letter has been misinterpreted, and that specific states were listed where money was still able to be spent under campaign finance limits.

"If we could send volunteers under the law in Ohio, we sure would," Musser said. "And any assertion that this is about how we view the race is ludicrous."

The Ohio Republican Party does not appear to be coming forward to fill the advertising void, choosing instead to put its resources into the races for secretary of state and state auditor.

Blackwell said Friday he is not disappointed with the support he has received.

"The fact is the president came in and raised $1.6 million for me. They've had Cabinet officers in just this week," he said. "The RGA has made independent expenditures in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I'm perfectly satisfied with the level of support."

During a visit this week to stump for DeWine, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said the party is not letting up in Ohio despite the hurdles it faces.

"We have well over 50 people on the ground whose job it is to help Ken win, to help Mike DeWine win and to help the congressional candidates win," he said. "We sent out 1.5 million absentee mail pieces, that specifically feature Ken Blackwell and the others on the ticket. We believe Ken Blackwell is an asset to Ohio and the whole turnout effort we have in place benefits Ken Blackwell on Election Day."