Republicans Hunt Senate Candidate in Ohio After Josh Mandel Drops Out

Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci
Associated Press

The shocking news earlier this month that Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel dropped out of the race for the 2018 U.S. Senate in Ohio has disrupted the Republican party’s hopes to unseat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in November.

Brown is one of ten Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018 in a state Donald Trump won in 2016, and Republicans had great expectations for Mandel this election cycle.

With a narrow 51 to 49 majority in the Senate, and conventional wisdom swirling around the mainstream media of a coming 2018 “Blue Wave,” Mandel as the potential GOP challenger to Brown in a state Trump ended up winning by nine points, 52 percent to 43 percent, seemed to be one of the few bright spots on the GOP map.

While Mandel’s path to the GOP nomination in the May 8 primary was not uncontested–self funding investment banker Mike Gibbons was also in the race–but most political insiders considered Mandel the favorite to carry the Republican banner into the November general election.

Despite his relative youth–he turned 40 in September–Mandel is a well known name in Ohio, having first been elected to statewide office as Treasurer in 2010.

He lost a hard fought race against Brown in 2012, 51 percent to 45 percent, bounced back to win re-election as Treasurer in 2014 by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin, and was within striking distance of Brown in the most recent polls.

All that changed on January 5 when Mandel announced he was leaving the U.S. Senate race after “We recently learned that my wife has a health issue that will require my time, attention and presence. In other words, I need to be there.”

The Republicans were left with only one candidate in the race–Gibbons–and a looming filing deadline on February 6.

Two additional contenders for the nomination have emerged: U.S. Rep Jim Renacci (R-OH) and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance.

Renacci had previously announced a campaign for governor, but sought assurance from President Trump’s political team they would back him if he switched races, as Cincinnati.com reported:

White House political staff sat down with Renacci on Wednesday and encouraged him to run for the Senate. They cited Renacci’s support for Trump’s initiatives in Congress and their desire to have another GOP vote in the Senate, a person close to the White House told The Enquirer.

When that assurance came, Renacci announced his candidacy on Thursday, as Cleveland.com reported:

In an email to supporters, Renacci confirmed Wednesday that he had met with White House officials, who asked him to run.

“While my strong distaste for Washington and the political establishment is as fervent as ever, so too is my commitment to advancing the President’s agenda for a stronger and more prosperous America,” Renacci, who has aligned himself with President Donald Trump, said in the email. “And for that reason I’ve agreed to answer the call to service and enter the race for United States Senate.”

The 33-year-old Vance, whose compelling personal story from a lower middle class life in Middletown, Ohio, to the Marine Corps, Ohio State University, Yale Law School, and a venture capital job, formed the basis for his best-selling 2016 book, has both promise and pitfalls.

Cincinatti.com reported that “Vance met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who is chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign committee,” to consider a possible run last week:

“There are a number of people both in-state and out-of-state who are urging J.D. to run,” said Jai Chabria, an adviser to Vance who accompanied him to his Washington meetings Wednesday. “He’s taking these overtures seriously.”

Chabria said Vance met with potential donors as well as the two Senate GOP leaders. Renacci’s announcement didn’t change Vance’s plans, Chabria told The Enquirer.

The two separate courting sessions could make the Ohio race a replay of the battle between McConnell and Trump — and the broader fight within the GOP between establishment Republicans and hardline insurgents.

Vance’s personal story is slated to become a movie directed by Ron Howard. Vance, who also is a CNN contributor, is a partner in the hedge fund Revolution that focuses on investing in red-state friendly business.

While Vance is a populist, he publicly stated he voted for Evan McMullin for president in 2016. He is also on friendly terms with allies of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, as Buzzfeed reported.

Meanwhile, the self-funding Mike Gibbons is staying in the Republican race, Cincinatti.com reported:

“Mike remains committed to the race,” Mike Biundo, Gibbons’ general consultant, said in a statement Wednesday night. “Voters want a true outsider in the race and are tired of career politicians who are always interested in their next job.”

The calendar offers a silver lining for Ohio Republicans. Since the primary is in May, the Republican nominee will have six months to raise money and make the case against Democratic incumbent Brown in November’s general election.

This article has been updated.

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