Congressman Jim Renacci, who touted President Trump’s endorsement during his campaign, blew out four opponents on Tuesday, paving the way for him to challenge incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown in November.
With 84.5 percent of Ohio precincts reporting, Renacci held a commanding lead, garnering nearly half of the votes in a five-way primary:
Renacci easily edged out Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons, a political newcomer who had also sought the votes of Trump fans during his campaign.
In an email to supporters Tuesday night, Renacci wrote:
I am honored to have secured the Republican nomination for U.S Senate and am humbled by the outpouring of support our campaign has received throughout the state. For those who voted for a different candidate in this race, I’m committed to earning your support in the weeks and months ahead. Ohio deserves a voice in this Senate seat who will support rather than obstruct the President’s agenda, and who will fight for Ohio families and businesses rather than the liberal special interests that Sherrod Brown serves in Washington. I will be that voice for Ohio and I look forward to delivering that change in November.
Gibbons appeared to concede the election in a tweet thanking supporters:
— Mike Gibbons (@MikeGibbonsOH) May 9, 2018
The race for the Ohio Senate seat promises to be a wild ride. Renacci, a battle-tested campaigner whose congressional district is in Brown’s backyard, knows the turf and has won several heavily contested races, eliminating two popular Democratic incumbents since he first ran for Congress in 2010. In his first campaign, he took out incumbent Congressman John Boccieri, winning by 11 points. During his first term, Renacci’s district was redrawn, with the new boundaries stretching into the heavily Democratic Cleveland area. In his second election, he faced off against incumbent Betty Sutton. He beat her by four points in that contentious election that ended up being one of the most expensive congressional races in the country. In subsequent races in 2014 and 2016, Renacci won handily by margins of 28 points and 30 points respectively.
Brown is extremely popular with Democrats and many independents—and even some Republicans. Despite Brown’s uber-liberal views and voting record, he portrays himself as a moderate—a man of the people. One independent voter I spoke with last week said he liked Brown because he helped his neighborhood clean up after a big storm years ago. Brown’s last challenger was popular conservative Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel in 2012. Brown beat Mandel by six points.
Renacci is an accountant by trade who owned nursing homes, car dealerships, and an arena football team prior to running for national office. When the federal government took his dealership away during the GM bailout, Renacci decided to run for Congress. He told PJM earlier this week, “I am the only candidate endorsed and supported by the president. In a crowded field of Trump supporters, the president understands that I am a partner to the [Trump] administration and am the only primary candidate with the record to beat Sherrod Brown in November.”
Brown has been in Congress since 1993, switching from the House to the Senate in 2007 after defeating incumbent Republican Senator Mike DeWine, who is currently running for governor of Ohio.
Both the Cook Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball have the state “leaning Democratic. Brown has the advantages of incumbency, name recognition, and $12 million in the bank as he begins his campaign after being unopposed in the primary.
Considering today’s political climate, the race could turn out to be a referendum on President Trump.