U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci of Northeast Ohio on Monday filed paperwork to run for governor, hoping his status as a self-made businessman and state government outsider can help him win over President Donald Trump's voters.
Renacci joins Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor among Republicans who have made their gubernatorial bids public, but the GOP field is expected to grow to four. The Republican winner will take on the winner of a widening field of Democrats.
Who are the GOP's contenders? Enquirer Columbus bureau chief Chrissie Thompson and political reporter Jason Williams take a look:
U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci:
Residence: Wadsworth, outside Akron
Past political experience: Served on Wadsworth city council and as mayor; in Congress since 2011
What you need to know:
Renacci has parlayed his status as a multi-millionaire into becoming the favorite of some Trump supporters.
On Renacci's team: Rob Scott, the Dayton-area attorney that managed Trump's primary campaign in Ohio and helped run his general election campaign here. Scott says others in Trump's "infrastructure" plan to back Renacci as well if (and it's looking like when) he launches an official campaign.
"There’s a hunger right now in Ohio coming off a big win with Trump for an outsider in Columbus," Scott told The Enquirer. “The other three (Republican candidates) really have been running for governor for years now.”
Renacci made his millions owning nursing homes, dealerships and teams in both arena football and minor league baseball. His Chevrolet dealership was forced to close after General Motors, working with a federal government team helping with its 2009 bankruptcy, terminated franchise agreements with hundreds of dealers. Outraged at what he viewed as government intervention in his business, Renacci ran for Congress.
The comparisons of Renacci to Trump only go so far. Renacci is a CPA and lacks much of Trump's flair for the dramatic. At a meeting last month with representatives from some of Columbus' biggest corporations, he asked question after question about their effective corporate tax rates and how much their prices would go up if the government levied a certain kind of a tax. And he wanted specific figures, please.
Don't expect Renacci to attempt to self-fund his campaign, a la Trump, although he has lent his campaign money in the past. Last month in Columbus, he specifically mentioned the encouragement he's received from "donors" to run for governor.
Renacci will face a name recognition challenge outside of Northeast Ohio. Plus, his long business history could open him to attacks related to lawsuits he has faced.
His name also surfaced in a federal trial, when the feds said one of his donors, "As Seen on TV" marketer Ben Suarez, conspired in 2011 to circumvent federal campaign finance limits to shuttle money to the campaigns of Renacci and then-Senate candidate Josh Mandel. Renacci was never charged. Suarez was acquitted of the campaign finance charges and was convicted only of witness tampering.
Attorney General Mike DeWine
Other political experience: Has held elected office nearly nonstop since 1976, ranging from Greene County prosecutor to U.S. senator; was lieutenant governor under George Voinovich
What you need to know:
Based on name recognition and political pedigree alone, DeWine would be the GOP front-runner. The run for governor – which he is thought to view as the pinnacle of his career – would mark his eighth time on a statewide ballot.
Then there's his fundraising strength: He's personally worth millions, thanks to a family seed business he inherited, and has loaned money to his own campaign in the past. And his campaign credentials: Gov. John Kasich operative Dave Luketic is in place to manage his campaign, backed by the longtime GOP staffers and former elected officials at The Batchelder Company. He landed an endorsement from one of the state's biggest backers of President Donald Trump, even though some on Trump's Ohio team are looking to Renacci.
A lifetime of public service allows DeWine to list accomplishments ranging from testing old rape kits to working on pediatric safety tests by drug companies. His long resume also opens him to attacks. He could be labeled by as the ultimate government insider, in an attempt to turn Trump supporters against him. (DeWine backed Trump in the election, condemning Trump's comments in a 2005 video about his treatment of women, while keeping his endorsement in place.)
He also could face criticism in a GOP primary for some moments in his career, from his office's launch in 2013 of a statewide facial recognition system without telling the public to the gun control stances that earned him an endorsement from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in his unsuccessful Senate race against Democrat Sherrod Brown.
More recently, DeWine's office has taken over the investigation into the killings last year in Pike County, the largest homicide case in Ohio history. Whether the killings remain unsolved could factor into his legacy.
DeWine's gubernatorial bid isn't official yet, although he is forever telling people he's running.
Secretary of State Jon Husted
Past political experience: Dayton-area state representative, including speaker of the House; state senator
What you need to know:
A former All-American football player at the University of Dayton, Husted passed up a career in coaching to go into politics.
He stayed in Dayton and got his start working on a congressional campaign before joining the staff of a Montgomery County commissioner. Husted joined the Dayton chamber of commerce, where he established relationships with the Miami Valley region's top business leaders and big-money political donors. Those relationships propelled him to the Statehouse in his early 30s.
As SOS, Husted has been more aggressive than his predecessors at trying to crack down on voter fraud. His office has used voter-roll and bureau of motor vehicles records to identify non-citizen voters.
Husted has some baggage. In 2008, issues surfaced about Husted's permanent residency – whether it was the Dayton or Columbus areas. He owned a home in Kettering, but had been living in suburban Columbus, where his wife owned a house. Residency matters for voting purposes, and in 2009 the state Supreme Court ruled his permanent residence was Kettering. Now, as secretary of state, he officially lives in Columbus.
GOP circles also rumble with concerns about Husted's past ties to political operatives who were wrapped up in a federal investigation for alleged pay-for-play and kickback schemes in the Ohio House. The federal government closed that case without filing charges.
In an attempt to win over Trump backers, Husted's campaign aligned itself with Jane Timken in her ultimately successful Ohio GOP chairperson's race. Husted's allies successfully ran some people for state central committee in 2016, a move that could pay off if committee votes on an endorsement.
But Husted hasn't always been as pro-Trump as his Timken support would suggest. After the infamous video surfaced of Trump making lewd comments about women, Husted said he couldn't vote for either Hillary Clinton or Trump. Instead, Husted based his decision on the vice presidential candidates, and Trump ultimately got his vote because of his support of Vice President Mike Pence.
Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor
Residence: Uniontown, between Canton and Akron
Past political experience: Started career on Green City Council; elected to Ohio House in 2002; the only Republican elected for statewide office in 2006, when she became auditor; has been Kasich's lieutenant since he was first elected in 2010
What you need to know:
Taylor started her career as an accountant, and she currently also leads the state insurance department. Her husband, Don Taylor, is president and CEO of a major Northeast Ohio commercial construction company.
Mary Taylor upset Kasich's team in January's Ohio Republican Party chairperson's race, when she publicly supported Trump-backed Timken, switching her support from Kasich-backed incumbent Matt Borges. Taylor isn't in Kasich's inner circle, but the governor has said he'll still endorse her.
Taylor's support of Timken came after the lieutenant governor hemmed and hawed her way through the turmoil that marred Trump's campaign. After the Trump video surfaced, a Taylor spokesman insisted she had never endorsed him, although she had previously said she would vote for him.
Did Taylor start her gubernatorial campaign too late? She just officially started a campaign committee last month. Meanwhile, DeWine and Husted have been gearing up for two years. There is buzz that Taylor could end up running for Congress if Renacci follows through and runs for governor instead of Congress in 2018.
Regardless, Taylor's opponents have plenty of fodder to use against her. She's been criticized for not wanting to spend much time in Columbus, despite holding a state public office seat for more than 14 years. In 2011, Kasich ordered Taylor to reimburse taxpayers for using a state plane to commute from her home to the state capital. .
Yet another Taylor-centered controversy surfaced in 2014, when two employees were found to have logged questionable work hours on their time cards. The employees later resigned.