U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is an “obstructionist” who votes against the interests of Ohioans in favor of Democratic leadership in the Senate, his opponent charged Thursday in an interview with The Times-Gazette.
U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R-16th Dist.) is challenging Brown in the November election, having defeated businessman Mike Gibbons in the May 8 primary.
Renacci, serving his fourth term in Congress, is an unabashed supporter of President Donald Trump, and touts his relationship with the president and his confidence that Trump will campaign for him in the Buckeye State in the months leading up to November. Renacci said he was the first national politician to endorse Trump during the 2016 primary.
Renacci, who initially announced a run for Ohio governor before deciding on the Senate race after state Treasurer Josh Mandel withdrew, said internal polls show him in a neck-and-neck race with Brown, who has served in the Senate since 2007.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, discussing the top Senate races presenting Republican pick-up opportunities, recently told The Hill, “I saw a survey within the last week in Ohio indicating that race is very competitive. I would certainly add Ohio to the list.”
Renacci said Thursday that most Ohioans favor Trump’s policies, including the tax reform package passed late last year. He said Brown “has been a total obstructionist to the Trump agenda.”
Renacci, 59, positions himself as coming from a working class background, his father having been a “union railroad worker,” as Renacci put it, and his mother a nurse. He worked his way through college – the first in his family to earn a college degree — while Brown was the son of a doctor who graduated from Yale, said Renacci.
“We need to put people in who have lived in the real world,” said Renacci.
Renacci said he has a 100 percent voting record on Second Amendment and pro-life issues, but also stressed his history of working in bipartisan fashion.
“We don’t have Republican problems or Democrat problems, we have American problems,” he said. Renacci said he participates in bipartisan breakfast meetings in Washington, and has had “at least” 15 bills passed by the House with bipartisan support. He said in 2012 his bills passed with 100 percent bipartisan support, and in past elections he has been endorsed by both the Tea Party and the Teamsters.
In mid-May, Brown, 65, launched a TV ad claiming Renacci “voted to make it easier for lobbyists to hold key government positions and harder to investigate conflicts of interest. And now he’s running for Senate? Jim Renacci. He’s always looked out for himself.”
On Thursday, Politifact rated the ad “mostly false.” The Associated Press reported earlier, “The negativity of the attack shows Brown is bracing for a nasty and expensive fight to hold onto his seat.”
A recent Cincinnati Enquirer profile of the race noted, “For Brown, his breezy, conversational-style of campaigning and down-to-earth persona punctuated with his gravelly voice has allowed him to stay in the Senate since 2007. His success in a swing state like Ohio has intrigued politicos, especially considering Brown has what many see as a very liberal voting record. In 2017, Brown ranked as the 10th most liberal senator, on Govtrack.us.”
But the same story added, “Trump won Ohio by eight percentage points. Brown can’t ignore the increasing Republican hold on Ohio politics, wrote Kyle Kondik, who works at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and is managing editor of political forecasting newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball. ‘With Ohio changing, Brown cannot leave anything to chance,’ Kondik wrote in his column last week.”
Preston Maddock, a spokesman for the Brown campaign, said Thursday that rather than being an obstructionist, Brown works across the aisle with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and others on partnerships tackling the issues like the opioid epidemic, as well as working with the White House on trade issues. He called Renacci’s attacks “patently absurd.”
Maddock said Renacci’s criticisms of Brown are designed to “paper over the fact” that Renacci has spent his life in business and politics “looking out for himself,” while Brown works each day on behalf of Ohio workers. Brown “says what he means, and means what he says,” said Maddock.
Biographical information on Renacci’s campaign website says that years ago Renacci “started implementing his entrepreneurial vision of owning a small business… the Ohioan entrepreneur soon laid claim to operating over 60 businesses, creating 1,500 new jobs, employing over 3,000 people statewide… In 2009, the Obama Administration took over General Motors, shuttering dealerships across the country — including Jim’s in Northeast Ohio.”
Renacci said those developments motivated him to run for Congress.
Renacci has historically been a supporter of free trade, but he said Trump’s tariff threats and actions shouldn’t be judged until more time passes. He said China has “broken the rules” and the president has to address the problem.
Renacci said he understands worries by farmers and manufacturers about tariffs. But he said Trump often starts with a broad approach, then pulls back.
“Ohio is the number two exporter of soybeans. China is the number one importer,” said Renacci. “We have to make sure farmers are healthy. Let’s see where we end up. It’s not where we start, it’s where we finish.”
In the wake of various race-related controversies – the latest just this week involving a tweet from comedienne and Trump supporter Roseanne Barr about former Clinton aide Valerie Jarrett that was widely condemned as racist — Renacci said criticism that Trump lacks sensitivity on racial issues is unfounded.
“I think he has a sensitivity,” said Renacci. “I’ve sat in a car with him, had one-on-one discussions. He understands.” He said the national media “misjudges” the president.
Renacci said that both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence called to congratulate him on primary election night. He said Ohioans will see more of them on his behalf as the campaign progresses.
“Trump is coming in. He and the VP will be in,” said Renacci. “The president has told me he’ll be here.”
Earlier Thursday, Renacci attended a meet-and-greet at Highland County Republican headquarters.
Renacci and his wife, Tina, reside in northeast Ohio and are the parents of three children.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.