Ohio Sen. Portman to Retire

By Jim Ellis

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) surprisingly announced his retirement Monday.

Jan. 27, 2021 — Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) surprisingly announced Monday that he will not seek a third term next year, opening the third Senate seat for the 2022 election cycle.

Addressing reporters at a news conference in Cincinnati yesterday, Sen. Portman said, “Our country’s polarized right now. It’s kind of shirts and skins. That makes it more difficult to find that common ground. Elected officials aren’t rewarded for that. What they’re rewarded for is throwing red meat to the talk show.”

The two-term senator indicated that the “partisan gridlock” is one of the reasons for his retirement. He further said in explaining his retirement decision, “we just keep pushing out to the right and to the left, there’s not going to be much left in the middle to solve the real problems we face.”

For the Republicans, they now have three big state open seats to defend as Sen. Portman joins Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey and North Carolina’s Richard Burr as incumbents who have already made their 2022 retirement plans public. Several others could be on the horizon.

Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will be 88 and 89 years of age, respectively, at the time of the next election, and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R) originally took a two-term pledge when he was first elected in 2010. None of these three lawmakers have made their future political plans public to date, however.

Ohio, once a bedrock Republican state, developed a swing image beginning in 1992 when the state deserted GOP President George H.W. Bush and backed Democrat Bill Clinton. They did so again in 1996. In 2000 and 2004, Ohio returned to the Republican column awarding George W. Bush with its electoral votes. In 2008 and 2012, the Buckeye State ventured back to the Democratic side of the political ledger, supporting Barack Obama in both of his national elections.

Therefore, rather than being cast as a swing state during this 20 year period, Ohio may actually have been a microcosm of the national electorate since the state’s voters chose the winning candidate in each of the presidential elections during that time span, and had done likewise for the three previous decades.

The state’s electorate signaled a discernible move to the right in 2016 when Donald Trump recorded a nine-percentage point win, far beyond the toss-up rating national pollsters were forecasting. Perhaps the biggest clue to support Ohio’s recent rightward lurch is the 2018 election. While Democrats were enjoying a strong night across the country, Ohio Republican Mike DeWine was winning the governorship by five points even while pollsters were projecting a five-point Democratic win.

The Republican momentum at the top of the ticket, however, did not stop Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown from winning re-election, but his 53-47 percent victory over then-Rep. Jim Renacci (R) was tighter than most expected.

In 2020, Ohio breaks its 56-year winning streak in presidential elections with its vote for President Trump even though Democrat Joe Biden was carrying the national election. This suggests even further that the Buckeye electorate is transitioning from a microcosm of American politics to a state that favors more Republicans than Democrats.

With this background, the GOP should be cast as at least an early favorite to hold the Portman Senate seat, though we can expect a competitive battle. Each of the 100 seats are of obvious critical importance in a body that is split 50-50 so both parties will attempt to expand their target map to the maximum.

In Ohio, with six Republican statewide office holders, key former state officials, and 12 sitting members of the US House, the GOP can expect a crowded open Senate seat primary field.

For the Democrats, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Warren/Youngstown) confirmed yesterday that he would consider running for the Senate. Such a decision may have a surprisingly significant effect upon redistricting.

With Ohio again looking to lose a congressional seat, Rep. Ryan running statewide would make the decision of what House seat to collapse much easier. And, since the adjacent 11th District needs the largest population increase of any Ohio CD, Ryan’s 13th District becomes an even stronger candidate for collapse since the Akron area that both seats share is the most logical place to feed the 11th District population count.

The open Ohio Senate race will now be a top 2022 political contest. Count on seeing much attention being paid to this new and soon-to-unfold race over the coming months.

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