With the relatively unsurprising announcement from Senator Rob Portman that he would not seek reelection, a flurry of names began swirling on his replacement. Jim Jordan, who likes his role and face-time on the House Judiciary committee, and Jon Husted, who said he wants to be Governor one day (let that sink in...) have already bowed out. That leaves a number of 'contenders,' but make no mistake, the establishment GOP is working tirelessly to lock in for their hand-picked candidate, Jane Timken.
Timken, who serves as the GOP Chairwoman in Ohio, has been rumored to be eyeing Portman's seat ever since she took her position. So it came as no surprise that she expressed that she was very interested in running for Portman's seat. As an ardent defender of Mike DeWine, even when the Governor was pushing policy that is diametrically opposed to the GOP's supposed platform, she would have the benefit of being able to campaign alongside DeWine's reelection bid. Additionally, she would have the full weight of the GOP establishment, including volunteers, donor access, and what could only be expected as a perfunctory party "endorsement." Given recent spending trends in past cycles, it would likely take a minimum of 5 million dollars to compete with a Timken bid, and realistically closer to 10 million. As Chairwoman of the ORP, Timken curries favor with the National Republican Senate Committee, which would likely fully back their Ohio counterpart, and certainly would not want to lose a seat to an 'outsider.'
That isn't to say it would be "in the bag" for Timken to win a Republican primary, far from it. Her unabashed allegiance to DeWine makes the two inseparable, similar to Mary Taylor's struggle to shake John Kasich's shadow, and her success or failure will mirror DeWine's. But if she does run, any challenger will have to be able to self-finance or raise significant funds from out of state. The reason being is that DeWine and Timken would maintain a stranglehold on traditional Republican donors, making it exceptionally difficult for outsiders to raise funds from high-dollar donors within the Buckeye state.
This makes things very difficult for potential contenders like Nino Vitale, a House Rep from western Ohio who has built a significant following on social media, and Larry Obhof, who has felt the ire of the conservative base. Though Vitale is well liked among staunch conservatives, he is relatively unknown outside of his district, and has only raised less than $150,000 since 2017. He would have to either significantly self-finance or identify anti-establishment donors in and out of Ohio. On the other hand, as Senate President Obhof was able to raise $1.5 million since 2017, but those donors would largely be crossovers of DeWine and Timken. Additionally, he has never been seen as a strong leader, and significantly irritated conservatives with his acquiescing to DeWine on SB 311.
Warren Davidson, a Congressman from Southwest Ohio, is liked among conservatives as a member of the Freedom Caucus, and would have the potential to raise funds outside of the state. He also would be expected to pick up an endorsement from Jim Jordan, which would carry significant weight in a primary. That said, his name i.d. is in the single digits statewide, and has been less than impressive in the fundraising department.
There are rumors that if Timken is to run, 2018 U.S. Senate Candidate Mike Gibbons, would primary her. He has the financial wealth to fully self-finance, but he was never truly battle tested after losing by more than 15 points to former Congressman Jim Renacci, despite outspending the former Congressman. His campaign would only be as good as the people he surrounds himself with, as his 2018 run was marred with disorganization and weak messaging, largely guided by advisors he was overly-reliant on.
Ohio cannot afford continued soft leadership, and the current field is less than inspiring on the Republican side.
The Democrat pool vying for the seat is slightly smaller, at least for now, but has names that are known in large portions of the state. For starters, Amy Acton, DeWine's former Health Director who kicked off the COVID-pandemic restrictions has been considering a run. She does have the name I.D. and is well connected within the donor class due to her work within Columbus philanthropy. Her headaches would likely come in a general election, more-so than a primary where Democrats love her, but campaigning is exponentially different than doing daily briefs on T.V.. Also, while serving as Health Director, she supposedly took time off for mental health reasons, and the rigors of the campaign would be even more persistent.
Dayton Mayor, Nan Whaley, who came into the national spotlight after the tragic shooting outside of bars within the city, is also considering a run. She has some name i.d., but that is largely relegated to Southwest Ohio. Running for U.S. Senate is a very different beast than Mayor of a smaller city. Perhaps she could raise the funds to build name i.d., but it would be a tall order.
Lastly, Tim Ryan, who has been rumored to eye the Governor's race against DeWine in a General election, is considering the Senate seat. He certainly is familiar with campaigning, and has the financial connections, but was one of the first ones out of the Democratic Presidential Primary. He simply did not appeal to large swaths of the Democrat base, and that would prove a bigger problem in an ever-conservative minded state like Ohio.
The good news of all of this is, there seems to be some contention within each respective establishment as personalities and egos look to be satiated. The bad news is, a proven conservative outsider that could viably run has not come forth, and God knows, Ohioans desperately steadfast leadership.