Ohio Senator Rob Portman issued a statement today declaring that he will not seek a third term in the Senate in 2022.
Portman is a card-carrying member of the GOP Establishment. He was a seven-term Congressman from Ohio’s solidly GOP Second Congressional District in Ohio’s southwest corner along the borders with Indiana and Kentucky. The last time a Democrat won that district was in 1980.
Portman’s reputation in the House was as something of a “budget hawk” who favored comprehensive tax reform. In 2005 he was brought into the Bush Administration as US Trade Representative. One year later he was nominated by Pres. Bush to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget. In the summer of 2007, Portman resigned from his position at OMB.
After the end of the Bush Presidency, Portman was among those considered as a Vice Presidential running mate for John McCain. After McCain’s loss, Portman remained out of politics until he announced his intention to run for Senate to replace the retiring Ohio Senator George Voinovich. Portman was supported by “Tea Party” activists in 2010 and ran for the GOP nomination unopposed. Portman won the general election 57-39, winning 82 of Ohio’s 88 counties. In 2016 he faced former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland — someone who had won election statewide. The Hillary Clinton campaign spent millions of dollars to win Ohio at the Presidential level, and Portman ran a campaign intended to minimize connections to candidate Donald Trump even though he was being projected to win the state. Portman’s strategy paid off, as he took the lead in polling over Strickland in mid-summer, extended it throughout the fall campaign season, and went on to win by 21%.
But the lesson Portman might have taken from that victory was that he could operate independently of Pres. Trump and his supporters. Portman was almost an invisible player in the GOP over the past four years. In the final two years of Trump’s Presidency, only Susan Collins voted in a more “bipartisan” fashion than did Portman. According to one group that places Senators on an ideological spectrum, only Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were more “moderate” than was Portman among the GOP. During the Obama Administration, Portman was one of only 5 Republican Senators to vote in accordance with the Administration’s positions more than 50% of the time.
Pres. Trump just prevailed in Ohio by a margin of 53-45. The Trump MAGA constituency has reduced former popular Ohio Governor, and Never Trumper, John Kasich to a punch line in GOP politics. Recognizing his position in the “bipartisanship” standings, there is no question that Portman was going to be high on the list of GOP incumbents likely to draw a primary challenge from Trump’s MAGA supporters.
And one of the loudest and most effective advocates for Pres. Trump in Congress is right in his Ohio backyard — Rep. Jim Jordan, who represents Ohio’s Fourth Congressional District. Jordan came to Congress in 2006 and was a founding member of the Freedom Caucus. He’s regarded as one of the most conservative members of the House, one of Pres. Trump’s staunchest defenders, and one of the most aggressive pursuers of the misconduct by DOJ and FBI in the Russia Hoax fiasco.
So far as I can tell, Jordan hasn’t yet given any solid indication of his interest in running for the Senate. The current Governor is Mike DeWine, who is 73 and has already served two terms in the Senate earlier in his career. Others in the House delegation are said to have an interest, but none carry the same weight at the national level as does Jordan, which would make his candidacy easier to fund. The conventional wisdom already seems to be that an early announcement by Jordan could clear the field of any other serious primary contender for the GOP nomination.
There is already speculation that Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, a close ally and vocal defender of Trump, could run. Other possible GOP candidates include: J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly “Elegy,” Josh Mandel, who dropped out of the 2018 GOP primary race to challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Jon Husted, the state’s lieutenant governor.
A GOP source who has worked with the Portman team texted CNN: “There are two scenarios for the seat now: 1.) Jordan Runs and Clears the Field; 2.) Everyone in the State Runs.”
In this case, the conventional wisdom is likely correct, especially if Jordan could get an early endorsement from Pres. Trump, which seems likely given their history.
In a state that Trump won easily, with a popular conservative candidate such as Jordan certain be in the race for the GOP, Portman’s retirement likely solidifies the GOP hold on Ohio in 2022 even though it technically becomes an “Open Seat.” Portman, had he run and not drawn a MAGA primary challenge, would have been a vulnerable target in the 2022 general election mostly because of the likelihood of only getting tepid support as the Senator who finished behind only Collins and Murkowski in the race for “most moderate.”
Rob Portman is a Republican from a different era in Washington. There is no shame in that, but he recognizes this is no longer his time.