CINCINNATI — Citing White House encouragement, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci on Thursday jumped out of the Republican governor’s race and into Ohio’s U.S. Senate primary in an effort to unseat two-term Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown.
The fourth-term congressman announced his plans in a letter to supporters. The businessman and former Wadsworth mayor earlier said he’d make that move if encouraged to by President Donald Trump, who carried the swing state in 2016.
Renacci told supporters he was asked to seek the seat after a meeting at the White House earlier this week. He told The Associated Press on Thursday that was the biggest reason for his change, to serve by helping push Trump’s agenda in Washington.
“It was a discussion about moving our country forward,” Renacci said. “Again, when the administration and the president is weighing in to get you into a race, it’s something I believe I should do.”
In his letter to supporters, Renacci thanked Cincinnati Councilwoman Amy Murray, his selected running mate, and said she will now serve as state chairwoman for his Senate campaign.
Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel withdrew from the Senate race last week because of his wife’s health. That left Cleveland banker Mike Gibbons temporarily as the leading GOP candidate in a race likely to be pivotal to Democratic hopes of winning a Senate majority.
Gibbons, a GOP donor and Trump supporter, said Thursday he’s staying in the race.
“Only an outsider can beat Sherrod Brown,” Gibbons said in a statement. “The last thing the voters in 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.”
J.D. Vance, the Middletown, Ohio, native who wrote the best-selling “Hillbilly Elegy” that was often cited in 2016 for insights into Trump’s white working-class support, has also been discussed as a potential Republican entrant. He didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a message for comment.
An investor popular with Republican donors, Vance had talked about a possible run with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of neighboring Kentucky, but McConnell and his allies saw Renacci as more tested. Unlike Vance, Renacci has run four times successfully for Congress and already has a statewide network.
“He’s the kind of candidate that already has a campaign up and running,” Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to McConnell who works closely with him. “He doesn’t need the kind of on-ramp to get up and going that someone who hasn’t run before would need.”
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jake Strassberger called Renacci “the poster boy of Washington Republicans who’ve spent their time in office betraying middle-class workers to make life easier on the wealthy and well-connected.”
Still running for governor are Republicans Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, with at least a half dozen Democrats seeking nomination May 8.
Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, Richard Lardner in Washington and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed to this report.
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