TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — In Ohio's two hotly contested congressional races, President Barack Obama's shadow is unavoidable.
One Democrat hopes the president will help her win a matchup in northeast Ohio, in what is only one of two House contests in the nation between incumbents.
Another Democrat, who lost his congressional seat two years ago, is distancing himself from Obama as he tries to win back a district that traces the Ohio River.
Republicans are counting on dissatisfaction with Obama and the economy to help them keep both seats on Nov. 6.
Only a handful of the races in Ohio's 16 congressional districts are truly competitive after Republicans redrew the state's political map to reflect population shifts and came up with districts that tilted heavily toward one party or the other.
The GOP is all but assured of keeping a majority of the seats in the state while Democrats are heavily favored in just four contests. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is unopposed in his southwest Ohio district.
What happens in the races up for grabs could depend a lot on what happens at the top of the ticket.
Democrats are counting on a big turnout for the president to help them take back a pair of seats they lost in 2010 in what are thought to be Republican-leaning districts.
U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, a Democrat whose district was eliminated as a result of redistricting, is taking on first-term U.S. Rep. James Renacci in one of the most closely watched and costly races in the country. The only other matchup of House incumbents is in Iowa.
In the Ohio incumbent battle, a little more than $5 million has been spent by each side on TV ads when factoring in spending from outside groups, according to Sutton's campaign.
The two candidates share opposite views on just about all major issues — health care, the economic stimulus plan, tax cuts, the auto bailout.
"We clearly have two different directions," said Renacci, who says Sutton rarely goes against Obama and Democratic leadership. "It's important that's brought to the attention of people in the district."
Sutton has not shied away from her support of Obama, appearing with the president at campaign rallies in northeast Ohio. The president's message of restoring prosperity for the middle class will turn out voters who back her too, Sutton said.
"All of the races where the candidates are connecting with the middle class are going to fare well," she said. "My whole life has been about standing up for the middle class."
But farther south in Ohio's Appalachian region, former Rep. Charlie Wilson is trying to separate himself from Obama's environmental policies that have been unpopular in the coal producing area, including new air pollution standards for coal-fired power plants.
Wilson, who is in a rematch against freshman Republican Rep. Bill Johnson, began running an ad in September that said he opposed Obama's bad trade deals and often went against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
"There is a difference," the ad says, calling Wilson a "true independent."
Johnson has tried to link Wilson with the president throughout the campaign. "People like Barack Obama and Congressman Charlie Wilson spend too much and tax too much," Johnson said in one of his early TV ads.
Republicans currently outnumber Democrats in Ohio's delegation 13-5.
Because of slow population growth, Ohio has lost two of its 18 congressional districts. The impact of redistricting already has been felt.
— U.S. Rep. Steve Austria, a Republican, decided against seeking re-election rather than run against U.S. Rep. Mike Turner for the 10th Congressional District in southwest Ohio.
— Longtime U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich lost in the Democratic primary against veteran Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur after they were put in the same district. Kaptur is now taking on Republican Samuel Wurzelbacher, who became known as Joe the Plumber after questioning Obama about his economic policies during the 2008 campaign.
— In a new district in central Ohio added as Democrats sought more representation for African-Americans, former Democratic state Rep. Joyce Beatty is the favorite.
There will be at least two other new faces in Ohio's congressional delegation.
Iraq war veteran Brad Wenstrup, a Republican, is a heavy favorite in a southern Ohio district that stretches east from Cincinnati into Appalachia after he surprised U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt in the GOP primary.
In a GOP-leaning district in the state's northeast corner, nine-term U.S. Rep. Steven LaTourette, a Republican, announced in July he wouldn't seek re-election because of frustration over political gridlock in Washington.
Republicans chose Geauga County Prosecutor David Joyce to take on Democrat Dale Virgil Blanchard, who has run for Congress 10 times.