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Commentary: Jim Renacci And Amy Murray, A Political Odd Couple?

Former Ohio Congressman Jim Renacci
Mark Duncan
Associated Press
U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci is running as a Trump-supporting conservative in the Ohio governor race, but chose a moderate Republican as a running mate.

We're not here to say that the pairing of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Cincinnati council member Amy Murray is not going to work.  

Last Monday, the Republican Congressman from Northeast Ohio – Trump uber-supporter, Harley motorcycle rider, and sometimes bare-knuckle political brawler – stepped into a tiny meeting room in the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza hotel and introduced Murray, a mainstream, establishment Republican if there ever was one, as his running mate for governor.

And it left one with the odd feeling that there was something unnatural about this partnership.  

Maybe David Niven, an associate professor of American politics at the University of Cincinnati, put it best.

The Renacci-Murray team, Niven told WVXU, "feels sort of like putting on mismatched pants and shirt when you get up in the morning."

Maybe that's why Renacci spent the first 15 minutes of his speech – to a roomful made up mostly of ardent Trump supporters – talking about his own background, his success as a businessman, and how the GOP opposition team of Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted were career politicians with more than 70 years on the public payroll between them.

And, as he wound down, he introduced Murray, who was standing only a few feet away, in a sort of “Oh, by the way, this is my running mate” manner.

Renacci, who is one of the wealthiest members of the House, did make a point of the fact that he and Murray both come from the world of business, not politics. Murray is a former global business development manager for Procter & Gamble and spent a lot of time in Japan and California before Procter & Gamble brought her to Cincinnati to work in the company's Asian division.

"Career politicians have only created jobs for themselves,'' Renacci said, another dig at DeWine and Husted. "The only drive for them was to get re-elected. Murray's created jobs for someone other than herself."

Here's the fact of the matter: Renacci talks about Trump and the Trump agenda on a daily basis. Murray does not. In fact, she wouldn't even tell the Enquirer whether she voted for Trump, only that she supports what Trump is doing.

Pete Witte, the Price Hill Republican who heads POWR PAC, the West Side political organization, was in the room last Monday when Renacci announced his choice. He is a huge fan of Amy Murray. When asked if he supports Renacci, Witte doesn't have a lot to say.

And Witte doubts seriously if the Renacci-Murray team can win in next May's primary.

"I am backing Amy Murray for sure,'' Witte told WVXU later. "I have for a long time. She's an East Sider who is well liked on the West Side. But I think this Renacci-Murray ticket is facing an uphill battle against DeWine and Husted. I don't know how they can even cause a blip on the radar screen against this juggernaut."

Playing the Trump card is not likely to help, Witte said.

"If the thought is that Trump comes into Ohio for Renacci and bulldozes Ohio voters, it's just not going to happen," Witte said.  

Murray might have some uncomfortable moments playing along if Trump or some of his surrogates come to Ohio to campaign for the Renacci-Murray ticket.

"I know Amy; and I don't consider her a Trump supporter,'' Witte said.

The DeWine-Husted ticket seems to have the market cornered on raising GOP campaign dollars in every part of Ohio, including southwest Ohio. Renacci had to give $4 million of his personal fortune to his campaign earlier this year to make it look competitive. It's up to him how long he can spend his own money.

And the third Republican candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, trails in fundraising and has yet to choose a running mate, which she must do by the February 7 filing deadline.

There was some thought that Murray might be able to help Renacci raise money in Southwest Ohio. But one high-ranking Republican in Hamilton County told WVXU that's not happening. The GOP establishment, including the money people, are going for the familiar names of DeWine and Husted.

So what does she bring to the table for Renacci? Well, a few things. She is a woman, and Murray said last Monday that brings diversity to the ticket.

"We agree on a lot of issues, but we are different too,'' Murray said. The opioid crisis in Ohio is a good example, she said.

"It's important to be different,'' Murray said. "Women talk about it (the opioid crisis) differently than men do."

And there is the obvious fact that one is from Wadsworth in northeast Ohio and the other from Cincinnati, in southwest Ohio. Some people in politics believe geographic balance still matters. A dubious proposition, but possibly.

So what's in this for Amy Murray?

For one thing, she runs from the safety of a City Council seat.

Last month, Murray was elected to another four-year term, finishing eighth in a field race where nine were elected. Eighth place may not sound very impressive, but for a Republican running in a heavily Democratic city, it is impressive enough.

And, if the Renacci-Murray ticket crashes and burns in the May primary, she goes back to City Hall and gets on with life as a council member.

She's been an ally of Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat – at least most of the time. She has been chair of the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee. Will she be re-appointed to chair that committee, or any other committee? We'll likely know very soon.

Murray will be term-limited when the next council election comes around in 2021. She may have started out as a non-politician from the business world, but the politics bug has clearly bitten her now and she is going to want to move up the ladder.

That could mean Lieutenant Governor, if Renacci wins the primary and wins the general election next fall. Those are pretty big "ifs."

Witte says he doesn't see any downside for Murray in running with Renacci, even if they lose.

"Maybe she runs for state representative or some other statewide office somewhere down the road,'' Witte said. "Clearly, she has a future in politics."

Whether the Renacci-Murray ticket is successful or not, she can gain from the experience, Niven said.

"If she has future statewide ambitions, this is her opportunity to reach out to Republicans in places like Summit County and become known statewide, which is really hard for a Hamilton County politician to do,'' Niven said.

Renacci, "an unrestrained fire-breather," has helped himself by "finding a respectable elected official to run with him."

She runs the risk, Niven said, of becoming too closely identified with the Trump wing of the party, which could turn out badly.

"That's not who she has been,'' Niven said. "She's not looked on here as a Trump Republican. That's why this whole thing seems like a forced marriage." 

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.