Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced Monday that he will not seek reelection for a third term in the Senate in 2022, citing “partisan gridlock” as a major factor in his decision to retire.
“I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision,” Portman said in a statement.
“We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades,” he added.
Portman stated he will serve the remaining two years of his term, but decided to announce his decision early to allow ample time for a Republican candidate to prepare “to gear up for a statewide race.”
“I decided to make my announcement now because I have made up my mind, but also because it will allow whichever Republicans who choose to run plenty of time to gear up for a statewide race,” he said. “Over the next two years, I look forward to being able to focus all my energy on legislation and the challenges our country faces rather than on fundraising and campaigning.”
The surprise announcement will set off a highly competitive race to fill the seat and could reshape the 2022 battlefield for control of the Senate.
A number of Republicans could be in the mix. Rep. Jim Jordan, a close ally of President Trump, and Rep. Bill Johnson are viewed as strong potential statewide candidates. Former Rep. Jim Renacci who lost a Senate challenge to Democrat Sherrod Brown in 2018, is also considered a possible contender.
On the Democratic side, there are several potential candidates, including Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who lost a 2018 primary for governor, and Rep. Tim Ryan, who recently ran an unsuccessfully 2020 presidential bid for the Democratic nomination. Ryan in the hours since Portman’s announcement has shown he might jump into the frey, tweeting that he is “looking seriously” at considering a bid.
“I’m overwhelmed by supporters who are reaching out to encourage me to run for Senate. I haven’t made a decision yet but I’m looking seriously at it. Ohio deserves leaders who fight for working people,” Ryan tweeted adding an ActBlue Democrat fundraising link to fundraise off of Portman’s announcement and asked supporters to “chip in today to fund our early ground game.”
While Ohio has long been considered a battleground state for decades, it trends more favorably for Republican, holding all of the statewide offices except for Sen. Sherrod Brown’s seat. In 2016, Portman won reelection handily in 2016 by 21 points while Trump won the state by over 8 percentage points.
Trump remains popular in the Buckeye State, winning by 8 points over President Biden in November. Shortly after the Nov.3 election, Portman said in an interview that he was planning on running for a third term come 2022.
“Normally the first midterm election after the presidential is good for the opposite party,” Portman said. “Donald Trump just won Ohio by eight points twice. I beat Trump by 13 points last time in 2016. Should be a good year for Republicans.”
Portman in his statement referenced 82 of his bills were signed into law by President Trump and 68 were signed by President Obama to tout his “bipartisan” reputation.
According to CQ Vote Watch, Portman voted with Trump 97.7 percent of the time from 2017 through 2020, slightly more than the Senate GOP average of 96.6 percent. During President Barack Obama’s last six years in office, Portman supported his position 57.8 percent of the time, compared with a Senate GOP average presidential unity score of 53.4 percent.
“I still have two more years in my term and I intend to use that time to get a lot done,” Portman, who will become the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said in his statement.
Portman was one of more than a dozen senators who participated in a phone call Sunday with White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese to discuss Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
“I am hopeful that President Biden will follow through on his inaugural pledge to reach across the aisle, and I am prepared to work with him and his administration if he does. I was on the bipartisan call yesterday on a new COVID-19 package. I hope the Administration will work with us on a more targeted approach that focuses on things like vaccine distribution, testing, and getting kids back to school,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reacted to the news on Monday by saying in a statement that “My friend Sen. Portman’s announced retirement in two years will be a big loss for the entire Senate.”
“Both the Republican conference and the institution as a whole will be worse off when Rob departs. Fortunately, in the meantime, we have two more years to continue drawing on his knowledge, his principles, and his dedication as we keep fighting for American families,” McConnell said.
National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) called Portman’s retirement a “big loss,” but promised the NRSC “will fight tirelessly” to recruit a successor that “supports a pro-growth, pro-family, pro-Ohio agenda.”
“The 2022 election in Ohio starts today and Republicans will hold that seat,” Scott said. “The NRSC will fight tirelessly in Ohio to ensure Senator Portman’s successor supports a pro-growth, pro-family, pro-Ohio agenda – not the Radical Left’s agenda of higher taxes, bigger government, open borders and a weakened America.”
Republicans have 20 seats up for reelection in 2022, with some of those seats being from battlegrounds states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania where Trump narrowly lost in November, and in Florida, where he won by more than 3 percentage points.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is undecided about 2022, saying in November he has “got to see how things play out.” Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was firm on his plans for re-election come 2020, saying “we’re off and running” in his bid for a third term
Portman becomes the third Republican senator up for reelection in 2022 to announce retirement in key swing states, joining Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) leaving another open seat for the GOP to defend.