Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan is expected to run for Ohio’s open Senate seat next year, becoming the first high-profile candidate to move toward entering the race following the surprise announcement last week that Republican Sen. Rob Portman will not seek another term.
Ryan, who has been in Congress since winning his first election in 2002, has long flirted with running statewide campaigns, either for Senate or governor, but has passed in previous cycles — though he did run briefly in the Democratic primary for president in 2020. He had already been contemplating a run for either position in 2022 prior to Portman’s announcement, but discussions around the Senate seat accelerated following the news that it would be an open contest.
Ryan has made calls telling people he plans to run, according to a person familiar with the conversations, who requested anonymity to discuss private discussions. The New York Times first reported the details of Ryan’s moves on Monday.
In a statement, Ryan signaled his interest but did not confirm that he planned to enter the race.
“I’ve been hearing from Democrats across Ohio and the country who are excited at the possibility of picking up a Senate seat that we haven’t held in decades,” Ryan said in the statement. “I have been encouraged by their support, enthusiasm, and commitment. The U.S. Senate needs another working-class voice, and I’m very serious about the opportunity to continue representing the people of Ohio.”
Ted Strickland, the former Democratic governor of Ohio who lost the 2016 Senate race against Portman, said in an interview he’s spoken with the congressman recently and encouraged him to run.
“I’ve always considered him just an exceptional political talent. So when I heard that Rob was not going to seek reelection, it seemed to me that Tim was the person best-positioned to take on that challenge,” Strickland said. “I encouraged him to do it. He hasn’t made any public commitment to do that. But I think he’s strongly moving in that direction, and I hope he does. And I think if he does, he has a good chance of winning.”
Other Democrats are contemplating running for the seat, and it could become a crowded primary, although there are also Democrats considering the governor’s race against GOP Gov. Mike DeWine. Amy Acton, the former director of the state health department, is considering running. Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, has been considering a run for either Senate or governor. Rep. Joyce Beatty did not rule out running in a statement last week.
The Republican side of the race is also likely to face a crowded field, although several candidates have already said they will not run. Josh Mandel, a former state treasurer who lost the 2012 Senate race, has signaled interest, as has Rep. Steve Stivers and several other members of the congressional delegation. Secretary of State Frank LaRose is also a potential candidate. Rep. Jim Jordan, a top ally to former President Donald Trump, has said he will not run, and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and state Attorney General Dave Yost said they will not run.
Even thought it’s an open seat, Republicans will be favored. Trump carried Ohio handily in 2016 and again in 2020, and Democrats have struggled statewide, with the exception of Sen. Sherrod Brown, who won reelection in 2018.
Several House Democratic lawmakers and aides expected Ryan would run for the upper chamber after having discussions with him in recent days.
Ryan’s district, which includes Youngstown and some of Akron, has been steadily trending toward Republicans. President Barack Obama won it by 27 points in 2012, but Hillary Clinton only carried it by 7 points four years later. Then, in 2020, Joe Biden only edged Trump by 3 points.
Ohio is almost certainly losing one of its 16 seats in the upcoming redistricting, putting Ryan at greater risk. He’s running out of Democratic-friendly voters in his corner of Ohio, and new redistricting reform laws that limit the number of counties that can be split between different districts could put him in a greater squeeze.
Ally Mutnick and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.