National attention may be focused on the tightening Ohio gubernatorial race, but it's the race for secretary of state that's generating a lot of sparks.

Sherrod Brown (D), the two-term incumbent, is fending off a well-financed challenge from Hamilton County Commissioner Robert Taft II (R), scion of a well-known Ohio family, who was persuaded to abandon the governor's race and instead challenge Brown by top state and national GOP leaders, including Lee Atwater. Polls show the race even, and Brown has been airing television ads in which he touts his record with vigor.

The stakes are especially high in the secretary of state's race as Republicans fight to wrest control of Ohio's legislative reapportionment process -- which is in the hands of the state's top elected officials -- from the Democrats.

Brown's campaign charged that a $300,000 pledge to Taft from the Ohio GOP was a payoff. "Bob Taft became a candidate for secretary of state not because he thought the job was right, but because the price was right," a Brown spokesman said. Taft acknowledged that the party's commitment of money helped persuade him to leave the governor's race. "Certainly one factor in my decision was knowing what kind of support there would be from the state and national party," he said.

The battle erupted into an impromptu face-to-face confrontation last week when Brown invaded Taft's office with a squad of reporters to challenge Taft's performance as county commissioner. Taft emerged from his office, and what began as a news conference degenerated into a shouting match complete with waving arms and pointing fingers. "Why don't you go back to Columbus and do your job?" Taft shouted at Brown at one point.

Brown is not the only one invading a rival's territory. College Republicans have repeatedly shown up at Brown campaign events, raising old and unproven allegations that employees in Brown's office sold drugs on the job and calling the office a "work-free drug place." Taft media consultant Roger Ailes has continued the theme in negative ads that began airing Friday.