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Jim Renacci previews how he’d try to beat Sherrod Brown in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race

April 5, 2018

Jim Renacci previews how he’d try to beat Sherrod Brown in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race

CLEVELAND, Ohio — U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci on Wednesday offered a preview of what his campaign against Sen. Sherrod Brown might look like, if he’s first able to advance through a crowded Republican primary.

In an endorsement interview with editors for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Renacci said he plans to emphasize his life story as a self-made millionaire to contrast himself with Brown, a longtime elected official who Renacci said is one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate. That designation puts Brown out of step with a state that’s politically down-the-middle or even a little Republican leaning, he argued. 

Renacci also said Ohio needs someone who will support President Donald Trump’s agenda, which he said Brown has opposed, save for Brown’s enthusiastic support for Trump’s recently proposed foreign-steel tariffs.

“That’s going to be the big difference between me and Sherrod Brown... I started with a couple hundred dollars in the bank. And now I employ people... And Sherrod’s been a career politician living off the taxpayer’s dime,” he said.

Renacci’s opponents meanwhile tried to advance the argument that the Republican primary is unsettled, even though Renacci has a modest polling lead, a sizable fundraising lead and the support of Ohio Republican Party leaders, who are close to Trump’s political operation.

They have a point. Although Renacci led a recent public poll with 21 percent support, nearly double Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons’ second-place total, nearly 60 percent of likely Ohio Republican primary voters are unsure about whom they will vote for in the May Republican primary. 

That same poll, conducted by the respected firm SurveyUSA, found Brown leading Renacci by 14 points, a similar margin to the other Republican challengers.

“My problem is I am not the establishment candidate,” said Gibbons, a longtime Republican donor who is running for elected office for the first time. “They have no way of controlling me. They have no way of buying me. And I don’t really care if I get re-elected.”

In a separate endorsement interview, Marysville resident Melissa Ackison said she’s waking up before dawn to cram in several campaign events a day. She said the state party has tried to “crown” Renacci as the nominee, while her campaign hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves. 

She said that she although she holds hard-right political positions, she thinks her personal story as a mother of four and a business owner who was adversely affected by the Affordable Care Act will resonate with Ohioans of all political stripes. 

“At the beginning of the race, I was laughed at and I was kind of the trash candidate who no one was taking seriously,” Ackison said. “But it’s the people of Ohio who will have the final say in that.”

Some other stray observations from Wednesday’s endorsement meetings, which also included Cincinnati-area financial adviser Dan Kiley. (Retiree Don Elijah Eckhart was unable to attend):

- Broadly, Renacci, Gibbons and Ackison all held political positions that more or less aligned with Trump’s political agenda. They all said the United States needs to build the wall on the U.S. southern border, expressed support for the Second Amendment, said the Affordable Care Act needs to be repealed and said the government needs to cut entitlement social programs like food stamps and Medicaid. Kiley’s positions meanwhile were more unorthodox for a modern Republican primary — for example, he said he’s concerned that the United States spends 10 times at as much on the military as it does on education at the federal level.

For more on each candidate’s political positions, click here.

- Renacci incorrectly chalked up Republicans’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to U.S. Senate rules that require a 60-vote majority to pass most legislation. 

However, Republicans used a procedural rule to present the Republican repeal plan in such a way that it would only require 50 votes. It failed to clear that lower bar, by one vote, after three Republican senators voted against it.

- Renacci and Gibbons walked reporters and editors — and anyone watching a video of the interview live online — through the immediate aftermath of Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s surprise decision in January to drop out of the U.S. Senate race. Mandel’s announcement shocked Republicans since he’d spent months — and arguably years, since Mandel lost to Brown in the 2012 election — running for the seat. 

Renacci, who was running for governor at the time, said he got a call 10 minutes after Mandel’s announcement from Cory Gardner, a Colorado senator who runs national Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, asking Renacci to run for the Senate nomination.

“I said specifically I would not get in this race unless I got a call from the president of the United States,” Renacci said. “That was on a Friday. The following Tuesday, I got a call asking me to come to the White House and meet with the president.”

Gibbons, meanwhile, said that Renacci was one of “about 15” Ohio politicians who got a similar call. Among the others, Gibbons said: Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (who’s running for governor), former Columbus-area U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi and Northwest Ohio State Sen. Matt Huffman. He said the only call he got was from Republican National Committee co-chair/2016 Trump Ohio campaign director Bob Paduchik, who asked him to drop out of the race. 

Gibbons said he thinks Trump will find him a good partner if he makes it to the U.S. Senate.

“I gave him the largest personal donation I’ve ever given to a candidate, and raised just over $1 million for his campaign,” Gibbons said. “He doesn’t know who I am, but I think he’ll be just fine with me.”

- In response to a question about Trump’s tariffs, Gibbons revealed a company he founded lost out in the early 2000s to Wilbur Ross, who is now Trump’s commerce secretary, in an attempt to buy LTV Steel, the former Cleveland-based steelmaker. LTV’s Cleveland properties now are owned by ArcelorMittal. 

- Renacci and Gibbons, both multi-millionaires, both said their blue-collar upbringings will allow them to relate to everyday Ohioans, who make an average of around $50,000 per household. 

“I know what it is to be as poor as can be, but I also know what it is to have the opportunity to live the American Dream,” Renacci said.