SUDDES: Who will replace Portman?

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University. He covered the Statehouse for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer for many years.
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Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University. He covered the Statehouse for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer for many years.

In a multi-candidate GOP primary for next year’s U.S. Senate nomination, a candidate could in theory win with the largest single pile of votes – a plurality – not necessarily a majority (50%-plus).

That’s why, among many other factors, state Sen. Matt Dolan’s entry in to the Ohio GOP’s U.S. Senate scramble is significant: He’s a seasoned officeholder who, unlike the five other GOP prospects, doesn’t burn incense at Donald Trump’s altar, although he doesn’t trash the former president either.

In play is the seat of Sen. Rob Portman, a Terrace Park Republican, who isn’t running for a third term. Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for Portman’s seat are U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, of suburban Warren, and Morgan Harper, of Columbus. She’s a Stanford-educated lawyer who challenged U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, of suburban Columbus, in last year’s Democrat congressional primary.

Dolan, a Chagrin Falls Republican, served earlier in Ohio’s House. He was the GOP nominee for Cuyahoga County executive in 2011. His father, Larry Dolan, owns the Cleveland Indians baseball team, which will be renamed the Cleveland Guardians at the end of this baseball season.

Other Republicans seeking the Senate nomination are Cleveland entrepreneur Mike Gibbons, who unsuccessfully sought the nomination in 2018; former State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who was the GOP’s Senate nominee in 2012; car dealer Bernie Moreno; former Republican State Chair Jane Timken, an in-law of the Canton Timken bearings-and-steel dynasty; and entrepreneur and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance

Arguably, members of the GMMTV (Gibbons-Mandel-Moreno-Timken-Vance) quintet can be differentiated mainly by their degrees of devotion to, or at least praise of, Donald Trump. After all, the then-president handily carried Ohio last November. Among the hymn-singers, it’ll be hard to out-shout Mandel, whose fire-and-brimstone style demonstrates how ardently he wants Portman’s Senate seat. Get in the candidate’s way, and the ex-Marine may smother you with press releases.

Timken, as the only female Republican seeking the nomination, may have a gender advantage. Ohio – unlike, say, neighboring states Michigan and West Virginia – has never elected a woman of either party to the Senate, and Republican women might see Timken as a path-breaker.

Whether Matt Dolan or someone from the GMMTV quintet will land the nomination and the seat itself is impossible to predict, given the volatility of Ohio politics these days. In contrast, it’s all but certain Republicans will nominate Gov. Mike DeWine for a second term.

But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee big GOP turnout for the state ticket in November 2022. In fact, a good number of Republicans could stay home because some Republicans fault DeWine for trying to save Ohioans’ lives. Some of those Republicans claim to oppose abortion – to be pro-life. To any rational person, that’s a huge contradiction

But there’s no reasoning with unreasonable people, a category General Assembly over-represents – thanks to gerrymandering and term-limits. (The Statehouse effects of term-limits can call to mind what Molly Ivins once wrote about the Texas Legislature: Every village loses its idiot when the legislature is in session.)

Popular election of senators was a demand of reformers on the altogether reasonable grounds that Senate seats had been bought and sold at the Statehouse like so many carloads of grain when the legislature picked senators. Yet Ohio’s first popularly elected senator, Marion Republican Warren G. Harding, doesn’t exactly figure in the Annals of American Greatness.

Which of the 2022 Republican Senate candidates Ohio GOP voters slate will send a strong signal about whether the Ohio Republican Party is trending steadily rightward – or whether Trump’s 2016 and 2020 Ohio victories really didn’t change Ohio’s historic GOP heritage: The non-ideological, Git-R-Done politics practiced by, say, James A. Rhodes and George V. Voinovich.

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University. Previously, he was a veteran Statehouse reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.