Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, said Monday he won’t run for re-election in 2022, opening an opportunity for Democrats to pick up a seat in a chamber they control in this Congress by the narrowest of margins.
Portman said the country has become “increasingly polarized” over the past few decades, providing less opportunity to find common ground, though he said he was proud of his own bipartisan record.
“It has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision,” Portman said in a statement.
He promised to work with President Joe Biden over his remaining two years in the chamber, especially on Congress’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on vaccinations and reopening schools.
“This is a tough time to be in public service,” Portman said. “For many of the issues I am most passionate about, I will continue to make a difference outside of the Senate, beyond 2022. In the meantime, I am hopeful that President Biden will follow through on his inaugural pledge to reach across the aisle, and I am prepared to work with him and his administration if he does.”
The decision by Portman, who has been easily elected twice to the Senate, adds another complication to the effort by Republicans to retake the chamber in 2022. Democrats and Republicans currently have an even 50-50 split of Senate seats, with Democrats gaining control this month thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.
Republicans have to defend 20 seats in 2022, compared to just 14 for Democrats. With Portman’s retirement, three of the GOP seats on the ballot will be open ones that are harder to defend. Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina also is retiring, as is GOP Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Names of Republicans already being floated in Ohio as possible replacements for Portman include Representative Jim Jordan, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, and former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who ran unsuccessfully against Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown in 2012 and in 2018 before dropping out of the race.
Democrats in Ohio had been eyeing a challenge to Portman in 2022 and party officials quickly issued a statement calling Portman “one of Donald Trump’s biggest defenders,” adding that the 2022 race to replace him in the Senate will be competitive.
“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,” the party said in the statement.
Names of Democrats that have already been floated in Ohio as possible candidates include Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, who made a long-shot bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.
Ohio has leaned Republican in recent years, with the state picking Trump over Biden 53% to 45% in last November’s election. In 2016, Trump won the Buckeye State with 51% of the vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s 43%. Ohio’s other U.S. senator, Sherrod Brown, is the last Democrat to win a non-judicial statewide office.
Portman ran for the Senate in 2010 to replace retiring Senator George Voinovich, also a Republican, prevailing by 18 percentage points over Democrat Lee Fisher. When he ran for re-election in 2016, he won by 21 percentage points over former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland.
Now in his second term, Portman has generally voted with his party. But he sometimes parted ways with Trump, including voting in March 2019 for a resolution that would have terminated the president’s declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Portman says hasn’t decided whether he would vote to convict or acquit him in a Senate impeachment trial that starts in two weeks. He told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “as a juror, I’m going to listen to both sides. That’s my job.”
Portman said Trump bears blame for the siege on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, saying, “I don’t excuse anything President Trump did on Jan. 6 or in the run-up to it,” according to the newspaper.
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