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Analysis: Jim Renacci Drops Hints On Taking On Gov. Mike DeWine In 2022

Then U.S. Rep. Jim Rennaci at a 2018 event in Mansfield, Ohio.
Tony Dejak
Then U.S. Rep. Jim Rennaci at a 2018 event in Mansfield, Ohio.

I'm sure you all the know the old saw: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Jim Renacci, the former congressman from northeast Ohio who lost a U.S. Senate race to Democrat Sherrod Brown in 2018, has been exhibiting some distinctly duck-like qualities lately, at least when it comes to his political future.

He sure looks like a guy who is getting ready to take on his fellow Republican, Governor Mike DeWine, in the 2022 primary.

He has a website, jimrenacci.com, which sure looks like something that could be converted into a bona fide campaign website with a few keystrokes here and there.

He is the founder of Ohio's Future Foundation, which recently commissioned academics from the University of Akron and Ball State University to analyze Ohio's current economic conditions and its likely trajectory in the future. Not surprisingly, it came to the conclusion that Ohio is "continuing to lose its place in the U.S. economy."

He is capable of Trump-like Twitter storms that are often highly critical of DeWine for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, saying the governor has over-reached its authority, and blaming DeWine for weakening the state's economy.

But, when you ask him point blank, as I did this week, if he is planning a run for governor, you get a measured and carefully worded response.

"I do believe Gov. DeWine has the same policies of Gov. (Ted) Strickland and others before him that got us into this mess,'' Renacci said. "And I will be either supporting candidates who are taking him on or running against him myself."

In other words, he is not ruling it out.

He has been highly critical of DeWine's 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, which the governor renewed last week, saying it does nothing to address the problem of COVID-19. And some businesses are being punished by the state while others are given breaks, Renacci said.

"Look at the game tonight (Monday) at the Cleveland Browns stadium,'' Renacci said, referencing the Monday night football game between the Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. "The governor is willing to break the curfew for anyone going to the Browns game, but enforce it for people who would like to be able to watch it in a bar or restaurant."

DeWine allowed the Browns to have 12,000 fans inside the stadium – which holds nearly 68,000 – for the Monday night game.

"This virus does not suddenly show up at 10:01 p.m.," Renacci said.

Renacci did well enough in 2018 against Brown that he remains a viable Republican candidate in the future.

He took nearly 47% of the vote in a race that, in the beginning, looked like it might be a rout for Brown, the incumbent Democrat.

His gubernatorial ambitions have been no secret. In fact, he was an active candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, campaigning around the state, with then-Cincinnati council member Amy Murray as his running mate. But he dropped out and switched to the Senate race, where the path to the nomination was clear.

And his gubernatorial ambitions had to be bolstered when President Trump – whom Renacci has followed faithfully – tweeted out that DeWine might have a primary opponent in 2022. Trump was upset because DeWine went on CNN and suggested that, yes, Joe Biden, was probably the president-elect.

Renacci, from Wadsworth in Medina County, may not be the only one planning a possible run against DeWine.

U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson of Troy, whose sprawling district includes Butler County, has been burning up Twitter with barbs aimed at the incumbent governor's handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

"Ohio will not be more safe with more unchecked executive authority, more mandates or more lockdowns,'' Davidson tweeted on Nov. 16.

But, thus far, Davidson has not said anything that would indicate he would be willing to give up a safe seat in the U.S. House to take a run at a sitting governor.

Renacci isn't an elected official now. He has no comfy job as a congressman to give up. He is a free agent, able to do whatever he wants.

And it sounds to me like he wants to run for governor.

Renacci scoffs at polls in recent months that show over 70% of Ohioans approve of DeWine's handling of the pandemic.

"Democrats overwhelmingly support Mike DeWine,'' Renacci said. "I don't think that is the case among Republicans."

In 2018, DeWine spent a record $36.5 million to defeat Democrat Rich Cordray in a relatively tight race. DeWine won by 165,779 votes out of about 4.3 million cast.

That, of course, was pre-pandemic, Renacci said, and he told WVXU he believes DeWine has lost a lot of support from GOP voters since then because of his handling of COVID-19 and the state's economy.

"So, in 2018, if around 82,000 Republicans had abandoned him then, he might not be governor now,'' Renacci said. "I think there are at least that many Republicans in Ohio now who are angry at him today. He has about two years to fix it. We'll see."

Sounds like a lot of duck talk to me.

This article was first published Dec. 16.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

Copyright 2021 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

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.