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Johnson stays out of Senate campaign

Marietta Republican focuses on effort to keep House seat

Citing fundraising concerns as a big part of his decision, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson won’t run for Ohio’s open Senate seat next year and instead will seek re-election to the House.

“This (Republican) Senate primary is atypical in Ohio,” said Johnson, R-Marietta. “There are many candidates declared. Many of them have significant money in the bank or can self-fund. I’m not going to deny that coming from a base in Appalachia, where fundraising is a challenge under the best of circumstances, it can be exceptionally slow in a contested primary. That’s a disadvantage.

“From a candidacy perspective, I think I’m the guy that can win and hold that seat, but the realities of fundraising make it a real challenge.”

Johnson’s 18-county district includes all of Columbiana County and southern Mahoning County. Since Johnson’s first House victory in 2010, the district has gone from a toss-up seat to the most Republican in the state.

When U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, announced Jan. 25 that he wouldn’t seek a third six-year term next year, Johnson was among several Republicans who said he was “seriously considering” a run.

Since then, Johnson said Tuesday he’s been “talking with people including all of the 88 county GOP chairs, and I talked to literally thousands of residents across the state. When Sen. Portman announced his retirement, I immediately asked myself the question: ‘Can I better represent the people of the Mahoning Valley, eastern and southeastern Ohio from a Senate position than I can from my congressional seat?'”

Johnson said: “Ultimately, I’ve decided that the best thing for me to do right now is to focus on my re-election to my congressional seat and continue the hard work we’ve done here.”

The Republican field of candidates to succeed Portman includes former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken, and businessmen Bernie Moreno and Mike Gibbons, the latter who unsuccessfully ran in 2018 for the Republican nomination for a Senate seat. All of the candidates have personal wealth.

Also, J.D. Vance, author of the book “Hillbilly Elegy” and a venture capitalist, is expected to announce shortly his candidacy for the party’s nomination and state Sen. Matt Dolan, co-owner of the Cleveland Indians, has opened an exploratory committee.

While Johnson has been one of the strongest fundraisers among Ohio members of the U.S. House, he said things are different in a contested statewide primary for the Senate.

“So many people are sitting on their money and not making a commitment yet — keeping their powder dry if you will — waiting to see who comes out of the primary before they get to putting their money down with anybody,” he said.

Johnson said this “could very well be” a messy Republican primary.

“Contested, conflicted primaries can leave everybody severely wounded, including the person that comes out of it,” he said. “I’d much rather use our resources on the general election.”

Johnson said he doesn’t typically endorse in a Republican primary, and it’s still months from the filing deadline.

“It’s premature” to consider endorsing, he said. “There may actually be others that get in this race. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see that. But I think it’s important to leave it up to the people to decide the nominee from a strong slate of candidates. The bottom line is whoever is the Republican candidate, I’m going to be working hard for him or her because it’s critical, in my view, that we keep this seat a Republican seat.”

On the Democratic side, the only announced candidate is U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, who represents most of Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Ryan doesn’t have the personal wealth of the Republican candidates, but he raised $1.22 million during the first three months of this year.

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