Outside allies of both GOP Sen. Rob Portman and his Democratic opponent, Ted Strickland, are sending signals they think Mr. Portman is on his way to winning re-election in Ohio, even as polls show Hillary Clinton essentially tied with or slightly ahead of Donald Trump in the all-important state.
Senate Majority PAC, the major super PAC devoted to electing Democrats to the Senate, has already sunk about $10 million into the race but is delaying the start date for an ad campaign there in September by two weeks. Also, an outside group with ties to the Koch brothers, confident in a Portman victory but not actively supporting Mr. Trump, says it’s going off the airwaves in Ohio starting in mid-September.
The recent moves are a strong signal that Republicans, already defending more than twice as many seats as Democrats, can think about redirecting resources to other competitive races as they try to hold onto an effective 54-46 majority.
Senate Majority PAC is now pushing back the start date for an $800,000-per-week ad campaign in Ohio from Sept. 6 to Sept. 20.
“We regularly adjust strategy to maximize our resources and make sure we’re in the best possible position to win back the majority this November,” said Shripal Shah, a spokesman for the group.
The Senate Democrats’ campaign arm is also shifting $500,000 that was to go toward an independent expenditure into a coordinated ad buy with the Strickland campaign.
“The DSCC is spending the same amount of money they were slated to spend, it’s just being used to help fund our existing ad instead of through an independent expenditure,” said David Bergstein, a Strickland campaign spokesman.
Meanwhile, Freedom Partners, a Republican-leaning outside group with ties to the Koch brothers, says it’s confident enough that Mr. Portman is on his way to a win to scale things back in a few weeks.
“We will remain on air through Sept. 14 with our current ads, but given Portman’s strong position in the race, we are going to drop the remaining reservation and reserve flexibility over future spending,” said James Davis, a Freedom Partners spokesman.
Freedom Partners Action Fund and Americans for Prosperity, another group with Koch ties, have already combined to spend more than $10 million on the race.
Mr. Portman, who’s managed to attract a swath of support that includes labor unions and civil rights activists, is leading Mr. Strickland by close to 8 points in the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls.
Mr. Bergstein said the spending from Mr. Portman and his allies has failed to put the race away, and that the Democratic team is confident it’ll have the resources it needs going forward to get Mr. Strickland’s message to voters.
But in the age of super PACs, such public pronouncements about even minor resource shifts can serve, either intentionally or unintentionally, as an implicit signal for other like-minded groups that their money might be better spent elsewhere.
Senate Majority PAC’s total of about $10 million spent on the Ohio race is more money than the group has put into any of the competitive Senate races this year. Other closely watched states where Republican incumbents are on defense include Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Florida.
Josh Holmes, who managed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s successful 2014 re-election campaign, said resource distribution was hugely important two years ago, when bullish Democrats poured millions of dollars into Kentucky to try to unseat Mr. McConnell.
Mr. McConnell ended up thumping Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by about 16 points, and Mr. Holmes said the money flowing into Kentucky could have gone to help out Democrats in more competitive races in states like North Carolina, Colorado and Georgia.
“If you look at how all these races ended up for them in 2014, it’d be hard for me to imagine there’s a single Democratic operative that could justify throwing tens of millions of dollars away in Kentucky,” Mr. Holmes said. “And maybe that’s what they’re doing in Ohio, is that they’re correcting for some of those mistakes in the past.”