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Portman exit brings options

To most Democrats, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is a spineless partisan hack who blindly follows what other Republicans, particularly Donald Trump, tell him to do.

To some Trump supporters, Portman has not given enough support to the former president, particularly after the 2020 election results came in, even though he voted 88 percent of the time with him, didn’t vote to impeach in the first Senate trial and almost certainly won’t in the upcoming one.

And to longtime Republicans, Portman, R-Terrace Park, is viewed as a smart statesman who was able to cut through the partisan divide he dislikes to get many things accomplished during his time in the Senate.

Like him or not, Portman works hard and is probably the best campaigner I’ve ever seen. He raised incredible amounts of money, surrounded himself with very talented people and won every general election race by double digits.

Had he run next year for re-election, I have little doubt he would have won.

Portman announced this week he would not seek a third six-year term next year in the Senate, partially to spend more time with his family, but largely because of “partisan gridlock” in Washington, D.C.

With Portman’s announcement, a lot of Republicans and Democrats are looking to replace him.

An open U.S. Senate seat doesn’t come around very often. The last time we had one in Ohio was 2010 when Republican George V. Voinovich retired and was replaced by Portman, so it’s understandable that so many are interested.

Among them are the three congressmen who represent the Mahoning Valley: Tim Ryan, D-Howland; Bill Johnson, R-Marietta; and Dave Joyce, R-Bainbridge.

They seem to have different levels of interest.

Joyce said: “There will be plenty of time in the coming week for lots of folks, myself among them, to consider their options moving forward.”

Johnson was more direct: “I am seriously considering this opportunity and over the next few weeks, I will talk to my family, friends and supporters to determine if this is the right time and the right opportunity.”

Ryan said he was “looking seriously at it” and sent out a fundraising email about an hour after Portman’s announcement and another one two days later.

In a follow-up conversation I had with him, Ryan said: “We’re going to look very, very closely at it and see what it looks like in the world we’re living in. To have a voice from the Mahoning Valley on the floor of the U.S. Senate representing the people who’ve largely been forgotten is definitely needed. So talking it over with my wife, kids and see what we come up with.”

It’s very similar to what he said were the reasons he tried to run for speaker of the House and president.

Johnson and Joyce are strong fundraisers, but don’t have the statewide name recognition as some of the other Republicans looking at the office. Their decisions largely rest on what those other Republicans decide to do.

Ryan is in a unique position. The state is almost certainly going to lose a congressional seat because Ohio’s population continues not to grow at the pace of the rest of the nation, and Ryan’s district is possibly the one that will be eliminated.

Ryan’s district has become much more Republican during the past few years. If it survives, Ryan’s district has to grow in size, yet everywhere around him are more Republican areas.

He could also end up being drawn into a GOP-leaning area to face a better funded Republican incumbent.

Considering all of that, Ryan may end up seeking the Senate seat believing it’s his best option to continue in elected office.

But he could also hold that potential candidacy over Republicans in an effort to get a more favorable district though, as I mentioned, his current district is surrounded by Republican areas.

When I asked about redistricting, Ryan acknowledged: “Yeah, that’s the backdrop.”

Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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