WASHINGTON— U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci plans to run for U.S. Senate after President Donald Trump's political team urged the Republican to do so.
That means Renacci will jump out of the Ohio governor's race, according to Republicans with knowledge of the decision. An announcement is expected Thursday morning.
White House political staff sat down with Renacci Wednesday and encouraged him to run for U.S. Senate. They cited Renacci’s support for Trump’s initiatives in Congress and their desire to have another GOP vote in the U.S. Senate, a person close to the White House told The Enquirer.
Renacci's move comes after a day of intense jockeying in the Ohio Senate race, which unfolded behind closed doors. "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who is chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign committee.
"There are a number of people both in-state and out-of-state who are urging J.D. to run," said Jai Chabria, an adviser to Vance who accompanied him to his Washington meetings on Wednesday. "He’s taking these overtures seriously."
Chabria said Vance met with potential donors as well as the two Senate GOP leaders. Renacci's announcement didn't change Vance's plans, Chabria told The Enquirer.
The two separate courting sessions could make the Ohio race a replay of the battle between McConnell and Trump — and the broader fight within the GOP between establishment Republicans and hardline insurgents. That played out most recently in the Alabama Senate race, where Trump endorsed Roy Moore despite allegations of sexual misconduct.
McConnell endorsed the incumbent and establishment contender in the GOP primary. A Democrat eventually won the seat in a stunning upset.
One Republican is already in the GOP contest: Cleveland banker Mike Gibbons, who has committed to spending an additional $5 million of his own for his campaign.
Renacci had $285,000 in his House re-election account at the end of September, according to his most recent campaign account. He can transfer those funds to a Senate campaign account. In the governor's race, Renacci loaned his campaign $4 million, and he may dip into his own pocket again for the Senate race.
Whoever wins the GOP nomination will face Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown in the general election.
Gibbons has pledged to try to oust McConnell as the Senate's GOP leader, a move that Trump's allies have pushed. So it's no wonder McConnell is looking for an alternative.
Vance would “like to do it but I think he’s trying to figure out who else is going to get in,” said a lawmaker who has spoken with the Hillbilly Elegy author about his plans.
Renacci is currently running for governor, where he is one of several contenders battling for the GOP nomination.
The Ohio Senate race was thrown into flux last week when the presumed frontrunner for the GOP nomination, Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, dropped out citing his wife's health. He did not disclose her specific illness.
Some Republicans see Vance as an appealing candidate because of his roots in Appalachia and his ties to the white working-class voters who helped catapult Trump to the White House.
He has “a phenomenal life story,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Columbia Tusculum. “There’s certainly a large part of America that can relate to him. He’s achieved a lot from nothing. We always like those stories.”
Still, Vance did not vote for Trump -- a fact that could hurt him in a Republican primary.
"J.D. Vance effectively voted for Hillary Clinton when he voted against President Trump," said Gibbons' general consultant Mike Biundo.
Renacci was already heavily courting those voters in his gubernatorial bid--billing himself as the Trump candidate in the race and reminding voters that he endorsed Trump early in the 2016 presidential race.
Gibbons, too, has courted Trump supporters. Biundo reminded reporters on Wednesday that Gibbons served as a co-chair for Trump's Ohio campaign and said he "never wavered in his support for the president."
If Republicans are eager to find a nominee who can connect with blue-collar Ohioans, it's no wonder. Brown has long embraced a populist economic agenda, railing against Wall Street greed and the free trade agreements that he says ship American jobs overseas.
Brown declined to speculate Wednesday about who his opponent might be or how that might change the dynamic of the race.
"Mitch McConnell can pick his candidate. Donald Trump can pick his candidate," Brown said in a call with Ohio reporters. "The Republican primary voters will actually make that decision."
In the meantime, Brown said, he would focus on his "fight for working families."