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Counter Points is written by WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson. In it, he shares insights on political news on the local, state and national level that impacts the 2020 election. Counter Points is delivered once a week on Wednesdays and will cease publication soon after the November election is decided.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman Won't Run For Re-Election In 2022

In this April 16, 2018 file photo, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speaks during a news conference at a Kroger supermarket as the company announces new associate benefits attributed to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in Cincinnati.
In this April 16, 2018 file photo, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speaks during a news conference at a Kroger supermarket as the company announces new associate benefits attributed to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in Cincinnati.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced that he will not seek re-election in 2022, blaming the worsening "partisan gridlock" in Congress.

“This was not an easy decision because representing the people of Ohio has been an honor," Portman said in a press conference Monday. "But I’ve been doing this a long time, longer than I ever intended."

As Ohio's junior senator, Portman was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 and won again in 2016 against former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, taking 58% of the vote and winning all but four of Ohio's 88 counties.

Before that, Portman served 12 years in the U.S. House representing Ohio's 2nd District near Cincinnati, starting with a 1993 special election to replace Republican Rep. Bill Gradison. In 2005, he was nominated by then-President George W. Bush to serve as U.S. Trade Representativ, then won Senate confirmation to lead the Office of Budget and Management in 2006.

On Monday, however, the 65-year-old gave no hint as to what will come next, saying only that he plans to stay involved in public policy. 

"I'm going to work like hell for the next two years," Portman said.

Portman touted his track record over the last decade, with 68 of his bills signed into law by President Obama and 82 signed by President Trump, including laws on the addiction crisis and human trafficking. While expressing confidence that he could win another six years in the Senate, Portman said the country's increased polarization has made the job of passing legislation more difficult.

"It's gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy issues, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said.

In a statement, newly-elected Ohio Democratic Party chair Elizabeth Walters criticized Portman's reasoning.

"Over the past four years, Rob Portman has been one of Donald Trump’s biggest defenders, so his attempt today to rewrite that history is ridiculous," Walters wrote, adding, "if Portman wants to complain about the death of civility and the triumph of partisan gridlock, he should take a long, hard look in the mirror and think about what he wants to be his legacy."

Ohio Republicans had only praise for Portman, with GOP chair Jane Timken saying the party has "huge shoes to fill."

"Rob Portman is a statesman whose service to our country and our party over nearly three decades has been invaluable," Timken said in a statement. "His leadership and temperament will be missed in the halls of the U.S. Senate and amongst Ohio Republicans."

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said Portman has been a key partner on COVID-19 relief and other major issues.

"Senator Portman and I have had similar policy priorities to help Ohio families, from tackling the Opioid crisis and the scourge of human trafficking to protecting Lake Erie and Ohio's other natural wonders," DeWine wrote in a statement.

Portman said he's making his announcement now because it will allow Republicans hoping to replace him plenty of time to prepare for a statewide contest.

While Ohio's senior senator, Sen. Sherrod Brown, is a Democrat who last won in 2018, Ohio has trended significantly red in recent elections – with Republicans controlling all statewide executive offices and controlling supermajorities in both chambers of the Statehouse. Even before Portman's announcement, there was much discussion about the possibility of a pro-Trump candidate – such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) – challenging him in the GOP primary.

"There's plenty of candidates out there," Portman said Monday. "I don't have one in particular that I'm prepared to talk about today, but I know there will be plenty of interest."

Many well and lesser-known Republicans have already announced they're considering Senate runs, including former Ohio Treasurer and previous Senate candidate Josh Mandel, Rep. Brad Wenstrup, and even Timken herself.

Ohio Democrats have already begun fundraising for someone to oppose Portman in the general election, with speculation around Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, although no candidates have yet to declare in the race. Ryan said Monday that he's "seriously looking at it."

"Guess someone else has seen the polling, too," Walters tweeted. "This was always going to be a competitive race, now even more so. Get that popcorn ready to watch the R primary fireworks."

In the upcoming Senate impeachment trial of former President Trump, Portman reiterated his position that he will listen as a juror to both sides of the argument. Following the January 6 insurrection by pro-Trump extremists at the U.S. Capitol, Portman said that Trump himself "bears some responsibility" and supported an investigation into the attack.

Portman also said he doesn't support eliminating the legislative filibuster in the Senate, as some Democrats have recently suggested, saying that it requires a party to get support from the other side in order to pass laws. Portman said he hopes Biden continues to reach across the aisle to pass additional COVID-19 aid and other priorities.

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