Former congressman Renacci to challenge Gov. DeWine in GOP primary

Official photo of then-Congressman Jim Renacci. From Wikimedia Commons.

If Mike DeWine is going to achieve a second term as governor, he will first have to overcome a primary challenge from a former congressman from northeast Ohio.

Jim Renacci, a Republican from Wadsworth, announced a campaign for governor in the 2022 primary election. 

It is unusual for a sitting governor to face a primary contender, but the past year has shown that Ohio Republicans are not afraid to take on the top elected official from their own party. This internecine battle has been largely waged at the state legislature and on social media channels. Now it will play out in an electoral sphere.

Renacci served four terms in Congress representing a conservative-leaning district on the outskirts of Akron and Cleveland. He campaigned for governor four years ago in a multi-way Republican primary before switching to run for U.S. Senate. He was defeated in that 2018 race by incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown.

Renacci has remained politically active, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. An entrepreneur himself, Renacci has criticized the early decision by DeWine to shut down some businesses not deemed “essential” as a means of slowing the spread of coronavirus. 

He’s been likewise critical of other steps taken to mitigate the virus’ impact; Renacci called the mask mandate “unconstitutional” and took issue with the Vax-A-Million lottery meant to encourage Ohioans to get vaccinated.

Beyond the pandemic, he’s been critical of the governor’s attempts to enact new gun safety regulations and also panned a DeWine idea to spend $50 million on a state marketing campaign.

Gov. Mike DeWine is seen here at a governors’ meeting with President Donald Trump. Former Congressman Jim Renacci is challenging DeWine in the Republican primary for governor and considers himself more aligned with the Trump agenda. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Renacci’s first campaign advertisement goes further in attempting to tie negative economic news to the incumbent governor. There is a reference to the Lordstown Assembly plant closing in 2019 just 10 seconds into the ad; General Motors had already announced plans to close the plant in 2018, before DeWine took office.

“As a blue-collar entrepreneur, I’ve had the blessing of creating thousands of jobs,” Renacci says in the ad. “So I know exactly what is needed to rebuild our economy.”

Renacci refers to DeWine as a “career politician,” a similar attack made during Renacci’s brief run for governor in 2017. At the time, that race pitted the congressman against three statewide officeholders: DeWine (then the attorney general); Secretary of State Jon Husted, who would go on to become DeWine’s running mate; and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. Renacci portrayed the three in one campaign ad as “career fat cats who have lived off taxpayers for decades.”

Another aspect of the race involves Renacci’s fervent support of former President Trump. 

DeWine served as a campaign co-chairman for the president’s reelection effort in Ohio. He repeatedly praised the president’s handling of COVID-19 in 2020, despite the Ohio pandemic approach often appearing to be at odds with the public health messaging from the White House.

The relationship soured when DeWine acknowledged Joe Biden’s election victory in a CNN interview in mid-November. 

This led Trump to tweet, “Who will be running for Governor of the Great State of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!” 

Renacci has already received some campaign help from Brad Parscale, the former Trump campaign manager, NBC News reported in May.

The 2022 primary date is scheduled for May 3.

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