Monday, Oct 15, 2018
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Tom Troy

COMMENTARY

Republican Senate race tighter with Renacci

  • Ohio-Governor-s-Race-Renacci-2

    U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, had been running for governor, but the U.S. Senate would be a better fit for him.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • n3gibbonsMUG-jpg-17

    Mike Gibbons has a higher hurdle to get over than other candidates seeking a seat the U.S. Senate.

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Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel was widely expected to win the Republican nomination to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. But November was going to be an uphill battle.

Not only is this likely to be a Democratic-leaning year, but Mr. Mandel’s brand as a politician in Ohio has been so damaged through his own missteps that, even if he could still sway a majority of Republicans, Sherrod Brown was favored to win the general election.

Come on, he used Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer and a young lady with Down Syndrome, along with $2 million in taxpayer funds to create a public-service TV ad to promote positive name recognition for himself around Ohio.

The ad was really good. But there wasn’t much else done to promote the stated nonpolitical purpose of the ad, which was to alert Ohioans to a state-backed savings account for disabled people. The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation to prevent future such abuses.

The blowback in the upcoming election would not have been pretty.

Mr. Mandel quit the race to devote his attention to his wife, Ilana, who is experiencing an undisclosed illness.

Enter, Mike Gibbons and Jim Renacci.

Mr. Gibbons, a wealthy Cleveland businessman who has donated heavily to the Republican Party, has been in the race since early last year. He was backed by the state’s biggest and most organized Tea Party group, We the People, from Portage County, and the Franklin County Republican Party.

He was a Donald Trump supporter and has the political benefit of never having run for office before, making him a good vehicle for a campaign aimed at tarring Mr. Brown as a career politician.

He was a definite underdog in the primary against the better-funded and better-known Mr. Mandel. Mr. Mandel had relatively good party support, including Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and had a campaign chairman in every county, including Republican state central committeeman Mark Wagoner in Lucas County and Fulton County GOP Chairman Sandy Barber.

With Mr. Mandel out of the picture, Ohio Republicans have two candidates to choose from without the political baggage being dragged around by Mr. Mandel.

Mr. Renacci was running for governor when Mr. Mandel bailed out. Running for the U.S. Senate was a better fit for Mr. Renacci than governor, considering he’s already been in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011, but switching because it looked like an easier race made him look like the career politicians he said he deplored.

The Trump political team in Washington obliged and made a big public show of encouraging Mr. Renacci to do his duty to the party and run for the Senate.

Mr. Renacci grew up in western Pennsylvania and made himself wealthy with various businesses in Ohio, including sports teams, a motorcycle dealership, and car dealerships. He also owned a business in the Toledo area at one time — the former Swan Point Care Center, now Addison Heights Health and Rehabilitation Center, on Butz Road in Monclova Township, from 1996 to 2000.

He defeated a Democratic incumbent and Iraq War veteran in 2010 to win his first race for Congress in 2010. Two years later, he defeated U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton (D., Barberton) in a district that had been gerrymandered to benefit a Republican candidate.

Mr. Renacci has been in politics longer than Mr. Gibbons has — 14 years, counting his service on the Wadsworth city council and as Wadsworth mayor.

Both Mr. Gibbons and Mr. Renacci have lots of money, so campaign cash won’t be the deciding factor in the May 8 primary.

Unless Mr. Trump personally steps in to support one candidate or the other, the race for the GOP nomination will come down to who does the better job of campaigning.

All things being equal, Mr. Gibbons has a higher hurdle to get over. Nobody wants to be thought of as a career politician, but by definition career politicians are good at getting elected.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com419-724-6058, or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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