WASHINGTON, D.C. - Donald Trump’s back-to-back victories in Ohio show the president remains popular in the Buckeye State. But his latest triumph in the state might be a mixed blessing for Republicans like Rob Portman and Mike DeWine who will face reelection in two years.
While the results show that Ohio looks like it’s solidifying as a Republican state during presidential elections after supporting Democrat Barack Obama in two consecutive races, University of Akron political scientist David C. Cohen believes Trump’s showing might lead to less job security for DeWine and Portman by inspiring primary challenges from Trump-supporting Republicans around the state.
“Portman and DeWine understand this,” said Cohen, who serves as interim director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. “There will be a lot of pressure on them to shore up their conservative credentials to discourage a primary challenge.”
Many Republicans believe that former Ohio congressman Jim Renacci of Wadsworth - who dropped a GOP primary bid for governor in 2018 to unsuccessfully pursue the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Sherrod Brown, is positioning himself to run for governor since he founded a political nonprofit that has hosted events around the state where he has criticized policies supported by DeWine, like the continuation of Medicaid expansion and the hike of the state gas tax.
Champaign County Rep. Jim Jordan’s high-profile support for Trump has helped him build up a fundraising base and allowed him to raise more than $16 million during the current election cycle - the sort of money required for a statewide run - instead of the $1.3 million he previously raised.
Spokesmen for DeWine did not respond to a request for comment on his 2022 plans. Portman’s 2016 campaign manager, Corry Bliss, said he’d “voice extreme caution against anyone” challenging Portman in 2022, given his record of leadership on tax reform, confirming the three U.S. Supreme Court Justices that Trump nominated, and fighting sex trafficking and opioid abuse.
Bliss said Tuesday’s results confirm that Ohio is a Republican state, and “the Democratic party in Ohio is dead.” Spokesmen for the Ohio Democratic Party and Ohio Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment on Trump’s showing in Ohio.
Portman got 58 percent of the vote against former Ohio Gov Ted Strickland when he ran for re-election in 2016, and 56.9 percent of the vote when he ran against former Ohio Lt. Gov Lee Fisher in 2010. DeWine got 50.4 percent of the vote against former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray in 2018.
On Wednesday morning, Portman released a statement that congratulated state officials on conducting a “safe, secure and transparent” election in the state, and that congratulated Trump “on his decisive victory in Ohio.”
“I think Ohio voters know he is the right choice to rebuild our economy as we work to emerge from this pandemic,” Portman said.
In a post-election press call with reporters, Brown disagreed with the contention that Tuesday’s results show Ohio is a Republican state. He said it’s difficult for Democrats to win statewide election in Ohio, but his victory two years ago by nearly seven percent shows it can be done. He said Republican control over the state’s redistricting process has made it hard for good Democratic candidates to win offices like congressional seats that can be stepping stones to running for statewide office.
Brown said he hopes that when congressional lines are redrawn by a new process after the 2020 census “that maybe they’ll take the public into account when they draw redistricting lines, not just take the Republican party into account.”
Cohen observed that Ohio’s 2022 statewide contests will likely be influenced by whoever wins the White House, in that elections that occur half-way through a presidential term typically don’t favor the president’s party, as turnout drops and foes of the president are most motivated to vote. Incumbents in the president’s party are more likely to lose re-election in those years, as demonstrated by the Republican loss of U.S. House of Representatives control in 2018.
“Joe Biden winning the presidency is probably the best thing that could happen to Rob Portman in terms of his reelection chances,” said Cohen.