Ohio’s U.S. Senate Republican primary now pits two multi-millionaires against each other, with both claiming the anti-establishment mantle.
Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons was already in the GOP race when front-runner, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, dropped out last week. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, said he was dropping his bid for Ohio governor and entering the Senate race at the request of Trump administration officials.
The winner in the primary will face U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in November.
“Earlier this week I was asked to attend a meeting at the White House, at which I was asked to help protect the future of President Trump’s agenda by entering Ohio’s 2018 race for the United States Senate,” Renacci said in a letter to supporters. “While my strong distaste for Washington and the political establishment is as fervent as ever, so too is my commitment to advancing the President’s agenda for a stronger and more prosperous America.”
Gibbons, who has never run for political office, says he is the true outsider in the race.
“Only an outsider can beat Sherrod Brown. The last thing the voters of Ohio want is another opportunistic career politician who’s only looking to jump from one office to the next — and Jim Renacci can’t even decide what office he wants to jump to,” Gibbons said in a news release issued Thursday.
Local political experts say appealing to supporters of President Donald Trump could prove to be a double-edged sword for both Gibbons and Renacci, a businessman who has been in Congress since 2011.
“It helps a great deal in May 2018 in the Ohio Republican primary,” said Christopher Devine, assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton. “Whether it helps in the General Election is the critical question.”
Mark Caleb Smith, director of Cedarville’s Center for Political Studies, said Republican primary voters tend to be more conservative but the general election draws a broader group of Republicans as well as Democrats and independents who may not support Trump.
Brown will be tough to beat no matter who comes out of the primary, political analysts said.
“The last thing the Republicans need is a contested primary in a year when it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a very good year for Republicans,” said Paul Leonard, adjunct professor of political science at Wright State University and a former Ohio lieutenant governor and Dayton mayor.
“I think (Senator Brown) is smart, he’s an aggressive campaigner, he’s a likeable guy,” said Leonard, a Democrat.
Renacci’s exit from the governor’s race leaves it a two-ticket Republican primary race, with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, and his running mate, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, facing Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and her running mate, Cincinnati businessman Nathan Estruth.
Campaigns for Taylor and DeWine both issued statements wishing Renacci well.
“Jim Renacci is a smart businessman who wants the best for Ohio and we wish him good luck in his campaign for the Senate,” said Ryan Stubenrauch, spokesman for DeWine.
“This Senate seat is going to be key for Republicans in this election cycle as we look to remove Sherrod Brown, one of the Senate’s most liberal members,” Taylor said.
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