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Analysis: Tim Ryan Versus Rob Portman In 2022? Maybe...

Charlie Neibergall, J. Scott Applewhite

It seems like forever since Democrat Tim Ryan of Trumbull County was first elected to the U.S. House in 2002, and ever since politics reporters around the state (me included) have written more than our fair share of stories and tweets speculating about Ryan's political future.

It seems as if every few years, the Northeast Ohio Democrat has been dropping broad hints about running for statewide office – Ohio governor, U.S. senator, etc. – and then quickly backs off to run for re-election to his relatively safe seat in Congress. 

That safe seat may not be so safe anymore. In fact, it may be on the verge of disappearing altogether.

Which is why if you hear of Ryan planning a possible bid to take on incumbent Republican Rob Portman for the U.S. Senate in 2022, you might want to take him seriously this time.

Kyle Kondik, an Ohioan and the managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a closely watched political newsletter published by the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, recently wrote a lengthy article for the Crystal Ball which he called a very early look at 2022 U.S. Senate races.

Kondik lists three 2022 races as "potentially competitive," including Democrat Michael Bennett of Colorado, Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and Portman, from Kondik's home state. He includes this proviso: Overall, these are Senate races where we give a solid edge to the incumbent party to start.

Nonetheless, the only name Kondik raises in his article as a potential opponent for Portman is Ryan.

"In Ohio, watch to see if Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH-13), whose Republican trending Northeast Ohio district is a prime candidate to be eliminated in redistricting, ends up finally running statewide after a decade and a half of rumors that he might take the plunge,'' Kondik wrote.

Ohio, when the final 2020 census numbers are delivered to the states, is likely to lose a seat in the House, dropping from 16 to 15.

Ryan's district takes in part of Mahoning County, Trumbull County, part of Portage County and part of Summit County.

Kondik told WVXU the Republican legislators in Columbus could end up scattering Ryan's district among several surrounding districts that are solidly Republican (or at least Trumpian) and force Ryan into running against an incumbent Republican House member.

"Ryan could find himself in a new district that he would have a very hard time winning,'' Kondik said. "That would probably be enough to push him into taking on Portman,'' Kondik said.

But there are other potential opponents for Portman out there.

One is Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who received high marks for guiding Dayton through an extremely tough year in 2019 – one that included a mass shooting in August in the Oregon Street entertainment district that left nine dead and 27 wounded, and a freak outbreak in May of 15 tornadoes that touched down and did massive damage in the city and in the suburbs.

Whaley is contemplating a run for the Senate or a run for Ohio governor. She is also thinking about staying put in Dayton's City Hall.

In October, though, Whaley was one of the best known Democrats to participate in an Ohio Democratic virtual fundraiser aimed at the 2022 Senate race.

In an Oct. 26 video posted to Twitter, Whaley said that "Rob Portman has made his number one priority to do what Donald Trump wants and make the (Supreme Court) an extreme court."

Kondik is right. Ryan makes a lot of sense as a Senate candidate. So too, does Whaley.

One way or another, there will likely be a Democratic primary, followed by an uphill battle against Portman in a state that has taken on a distinctly red look.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

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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.