EXCLUSIVE: As he seriously considers launching a Republican gubernatorial primary challenge against former senator and current first-term Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, former Rep. Jim Renacci says that if you look at the state’s statistics, DeWine is “failing.”
Renacci, who spent eight years as a congressman representing a northeast Ohio district, highlights that “I’ve somewhat been campaigning to change Ohio for two years and the only thing that I really haven’t done is announce, so the announcement will come at the proper time.”
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Renacci told Fox News he’s seen four polls – including one that he commissioned – that all show him leading DeWine in a potential 2022 GOP gubernatorial primary showdown in Ohio that would shape up as a clash between the Republican establishment and the Trump base of the party.
The 62-year old Renacci, an independently wealthy businessman who built his wealth in auto dealerships and nursing homes before entering politics, ran for the Senate in 2018 after encouragement from then-President Donald Trump, losing to incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown by less than seven points.
“I have very few regrets in life,” Renacci shared in an interview before adding that “my biggest mistake and my biggest regret was that I jumped into a Senate race because people wanted me to jump in, when I was fully prepared and running for governor.”
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Renacci explained that “to switch races like that was very difficult. … I had to change campaign teams and I had to change what I was doing. And I really did it based on the request of the president at that time.”
After his 2018 defeat, Renacci took on a new role as chairman of the Medina County Republican Party. And he’s become a vocal critic of DeWine, who early on in the coronavirus pandemic was one of the most aggressive governors in the nation to implement quarantine orders to tackle the COVID crisis. Renacci’s argued that the coronavirus restrictions implemented by DeWine, which won bipartisan praise, have put the brakes on the Buckeye State’s economic recovery.
“Our state continues to get worse and worse when it comes to new jobs, when it comes to new businesses,” Renacci claimed. “I think in the end, we have a governor who’s a maintenance governor but nobody who wants to change the direction of where this state needs to go nationally to be able to compete with other states.”
And he charged that “if you compare Ohio to other states, he (DeWine) is definitely failing. He has not been able to move the needle.”
Renacci acknowledged that “there’s no doubt it’s tough to beat an incumbent. I have beat two incumbents in my history. I lost to an incumbent in the 2018 race. But I wasn’t prepared in the 2018.”
And he pledged that “I will be prepared in the 2022 race if the decision is made to enter that race.”
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Repeating a line that he’s said for a couple of years, Renacci stressed that he believes that “Washington is broken. I still believe the best place for me to give back to a state that’s been so good to me is the governor’s race so that’s why we’re evaluating it much closer.”
And he confirmed to Fox News that he commissioned a survey by Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s pollster in 2016 and 2020, that shows up him over DeWine.
“I wanted to get a polling company that had the credibility to really determine what’s going on in this state,” Renacci shared.
He said the results from Fabrizio’s survey “really [have] given me the opportunity to say now I’m not just looking at polls that have been handed to me by donors… that’s just added one more checkmark to getting to a point where I’ll make a decision.”
On Tuesday, Renacci highlighted to Fox News the results of another new poll, from an Ohio-based conservative think tank, that also indicated him leading DeWine.
Renacci touted that his name ID “is very strong” and that “former President Trump has always been a friend of mine.” And he emphasized that Ohio “is not a Republican state. This is not a Democrat state. This is a Trump state.”
Asked about Trump’s reported disappointment in Renacci’s 2018 Senate election loss, he said, “I have had businesses throughout the entire state so I do understand the state. I believe the president understands that and he’s a friend.”
And pointing to the support he’s receiving from former Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale, and to Fabrizio, Renacci noted that “many of his (Trump) team members are supportive of me, especially Brad Parscale and company.”
While he’s remained neutral so far, Trump’s apparently no fan of DeWine.
In November, after the governor acknowledged the legitimacy of now-President Biden’s election victory, Trump hinted in a tweet the next day that DeWine would need a 2022 primary challenger.
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DeWine has also defended the decision by GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, who was one of the 10 House Republicans to vote in favor of impeaching Trump in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists aiming to disrupt congressional certification of Biden’s presidential election victory over the then-president. DeWine’s said that Gonzalez – who now faces a primary challenge from a Trump loyalist – was “voting his conscience.”
DeWine, who enjoys support from social conservatives for his strong anti-abortion stance, is already facing primary challenges from two lesser known Republican candidates. And GOP Rep. Warren Davidson has also mulled launching a gubernatorial bid.