In our recently-published Senate preview, we rated Ohio’s Senate race as Safe Republican. Popular incumbent Republican Rob Portman, a two-term Senator with strong appeal in Cincinnati and Columbus, was widely presumed to be running for re-election. However, in a surprising development, Portman today announced he is not running for a third term.
While this development does make Ohio more competitive, we don’t think it changes the dynamics fundamentally. Ohio is a Republican state at the statewide level and has rapidly shifted to the right federally. With neither side having that strong of a recruiting class, Republicans remain broadly favored in the Buckeye State.
Rob Portman’s strength in Cincinnati is well-known. Like many Ohio Republicans, he began his career in suburban Hamilton County. As the county and Cincinnati have broadly shifted left, however, Portman has remained strong in the area. Even as Donald Trump lost the county by 10, Portman won it by a similarly-large margin. In many ways, Portman resembles the Ohio Republican Party of the past: a more moderate, fiscally conservative brand. His retirement sets up a major scramble for the open seat.
Because he was widely presumed to be running for a third term, few Republicans have expressed interest in his seat. With Ohio set to lose a seat in redistricting – and a new redistricting structure requiring a Cincinnati-based district – a slew of candidates might express interest. Representatives Steve Chabot (OH01) and Brad Wenstrup (OH02), both of which live in the city, might be interested in a bid to avoid being double-bunked. Representative Anthony Gonzalez (OH16) has also been mentioned as a future Senate candidate, but his vote for impeachment might prove an insurmountable hurdle in a Republican primary.
Who’s not likely to be on the list: Representative Jim Jordan (OH04). While Jordan is a popular choice among anti-establishment conservatives, he’s only a cycle away from holding the gavel on the prestigious Judiciary Committee. It seems unlikely that he would choose to be a freshman Senator instead.
To say the Ohio Democratic Party’s bench is depleted is an understatement. Lacking any statewide officers besides Senator Sherrod Brown, who himself may lose in 2024, the party is simply not where it needs to be to win. Donald Trump won the state twice by large margins in 2016 and 2020, and Democrats fell short in their bid for the Governor’s mansion in 2018.
The most commonly-floated name is Representative Tim Ryan (OH13), whose Republican-trending district is likely to be dismantled in redistricting. Ryan has shown resilience in holding his northeastern Ohio-based district, but he has no track record at the state level. Ryan’s decided shift to the left on cultural issues like abortion would also be sure to haunt him among Ohio’s many white, working-class voters. His run may be likely – especially if his seat is at risk – but his chances of winning are slim.
Out of an abundance of caution, we’re shifting our rating of Ohio to Likely Republican. Ohio is now a red state and 2022 will likely be a red midterm, which already poses major issues for Democrats. This is compounded by their lack of a bench as well as the strong number of Republicans who may be interested. A Democratic victory in the Buckeye State isn’t impossible, but we feel Rob Portman’s successor is almost certainly set to be a fellow Republican.