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Sherrod Brown: 'This wouldn't be a race' if it weren't for the outside money being spent against me

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown believes he’d be winning his re-election bid by a mile if it weren’t for Karl Rove and his billionaire buddies. 

On Wednesday's Hardball, the Buckeye State's liberal stalwart pointed to the $17 million in attack ads that have been poured into the race— "directed by Karl Rove" and his American Crossroads super PAC—to get Brown's opponent, state treasurer Josh Mandel, elected in a critical swing-state Senate race.

"If you talk to any reporter, they'll tell you off-the-record ... that this wouldn't be a race if it weren't for the $17 million," Brown said on Wednesday.

Brown remains quite popular in swing-state Ohio, and some analysts see this race as something of a litmus test: If a well-liked incumbent goes down to defeat at the hands of a relatively inexperienced but well-financed challenger, big money might just be able to buy any election it sets its mind to.

Who's funding the Mandel-friendly ads? “We figure it’s Wall Street," Brown told msnbc host Chris Matthews. "We figure it’s oil companies, we figure it’s Chinese interests, some off-shore companies that outsource and sell back into the U.S. We don’t know, we just pretty much guess that because it’s $17 million attacking a guy who’s stood up to ‘em.” 

While Mandel has closed the gap with Brown, a new Public Policy Polling survey shows the Democrat still has a healthy eight-point lead. 

On msnbc, Brown stressed his dedication to Ohio’s auto workers and the bailout, a stance his opponent has called “un-American,” and a plan that Mitt Romney initially opposed before trying to recast himself as the auto industry's savior. 

“The issue is, which side are you on?” said Brown. “When it comes to the auto industry, I know which side I’m on. When it comes to NAFTA, I know which side I'm on. When it comes to jobs issues, you know you're on the side of the middle class.”