CLEVELAND — When Jim Renacci launched his first bid for governor four years ago, it was a four-way race but he viewed then frontrunner Mike DeWine as the main target. Renacci bowed out of that race to run for the U.S. Senate but now four years later is back in an attempt to finish what he started.
"I jumped in that race because I didn't think Mike DeWine was the person who could change our state and three and half years later he's proven that," Renacci told News 5 after launching his challenge of DeWine for the 2022 nomination.
Renacci made it clear at the center of the campaign will be DeWine's handling of the pandemic and the shutdown of the state.
"Governor DeWine ran this state like Governor Cuomo ran New York and New York, Ohio and others are struggling to come back out," he said.
“Jim Renacci is really hoping and banking on the conservative Republican/Libertarians reaction against what DeWine did in responding to the COVID crisis,” said News 5 Political Analyst Dr. Tom Sutton of Baldwin Wallace University. "He's hoping in his run next year that people will remember that and will see that as a negative for DeWine and vote for Renacci instead in that primary."
A big question Sutton said is how much that's still an issue for Republican voters when they go to the polls 11 months from now.
"I think it's quite frankly a long shot to bank on that," he said.
When he took on the challenge of running against Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in 2018 he did so at the request of President Donald Trump who asked him to step in when then-candidate Josh Mandel bowed out for family health reasons. So does he have the backing of the former president on this run?
"I'm hoping that the president supports me but I don't think I need his support, I'd love to have it but I'm not going to rely on it. I do think I know what he's looking for, he's looking for a strong candidate he knows I'm that. He's looking for a strong team, he knows I have that because I have his team, he's looking for someone who has polling that shows he can win and we have his pollster and it shows I can win," he said.
In taking on Brown in 2018, he told News 5 one of the biggest hurdles was his lack of statewide name recognition compared to Brown who has run statewide multiple times over the years.
"When they hear me they say 'Renacki Reknocky Renachi' they don't even know how to pronounce my name," Renacci said.
This time he said is already different.
"When I jumped in the statewide race in 2018 I only had 5 or 6% name ID, today among Republicans I have an 82% name ID," he said. "You're right it's a challenge but that was a general election, remember there's a lot different going on here this is a primary, this is 900,000 voters not 4.4 million."
For his part, DeWine seemed unphased by the challenge Thursday saying he'll be laying his vision for the future of the state in due time.
"There's going to be a primary that should not be shocking to anyone simply because there's virtually always a primary," Governor DeWine said.
For open seats he's correct there's almost always a primary not necessarily for an incumbent. A quick search found the last credible primary challenge of an Ohio governor was against Democrat John Gilligan in 1974 which he won easily.