Wednesday Q+A with Jim Renacci

The Senate hopeful from Ohio on tariffs, swing-state politics, and being the "Trump guy."

Jeff Martin
Zach C. Cohen
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Zach C. Cohen
Sept. 11, 2018, 8 p.m.

Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Renacci is hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown this November. The Ways and Means Committee member sat down with Zach C. Cohen last week to talk about his campaign, the politics of a swing state, and why he hasn’t spoken to his home-state governor about the race.

In two months, you’ll appear on the ballot against Senator Sherrod Brown, who is currently leading in both polling and fundraising. What’s your plan to turn this race around?

We’re in the margin of error, which is what our internal polls say. This race is tightening up every day. I always tell people, “If Sherrod Brown was so far ahead, why is he spending so much money attacking me?” So I think in the end we’re going to continue to run the race we’re running. There’s 60 days left. In politics, that’s an eternity.

When you say the race is tightening, is that you gaining, is it Senator Brown declining? What does that look like?

Clearly I’m gaining, because Senator Brown is not moving. Our internal polls, he’s not breaking 45 [percent]. Depending on 2014 turnout, I’m up by 1 [percent]. Depending on 2016 [turnout], I’m down by 1. But the thing that’s the same across the board is he’s at 45, 46, 44. That’s not good for a sitting senator who’s been around for 12 years.

Why is that?

I think people are tired of career politicians. I think they’re tired of a guy who has been around for 25 years—in the House, in the Senate—and really hasn’t accomplished much. They look at me as a businessman who was tired of what was going on in Washington, and somebody who wanted to come in and change things. Senator Brown is Washington. He loves Washington. He’s forgotten about Ohioans.

What is your argument to Trump supporters that you’ll be an ally to him in Washington?

They saw me come out before the primary, they saw me be with him during the primary. They saw me support him even during the Billy Bush scenario, when people were running [away], because this was about selecting somebody who I believe was actually going to change the course of our country in the right direction. And they’ve seen me being with him most of the time. Not 100 percent of the time. Because he has to represent the country, I have to represent Ohio. So there are differences. But in the end, I think people really see me as the Trump guy. In Ohio, that’s a positive thing.

Where have you differed with him so far?

I differed with him on separation of families at the border. I differed with him on the omnibus that I voted against when he wanted everyone to vote for it. I told him when it comes to tariffs that I support him in the negotiations, I do support that, but I’m a free and fair trader and a reciprocal [trader]. Being one of the architects of the tax bill, I can tell you there were many discussions where I disagreed with him and his staff on a number of things. So it’s just not something that I believe needs to be public.

Is Ohio still a swing state?

I think any time you’re a right-center state, you can be a swing state. Even my district is a swing district. Anytime you’re in the R+4, R+5, you can swing either way depending on where things go. I think Ohio will always be a state that people look at, because it is a state that is middle-of-the-road. It’s a purple state that might be trending a little bit red.

What is the plan for the next two months to get that message out and tell people that?

The plan is to continue to be in Ohio almost every day that I can be. It’s to go from event to event to event. It’s to make sure that the media’s picking up this race, that people know it’s important. It’s the same plan that I used in ‘10, the same plan I used in ‘12 [against] career politicians. The biggest disadvantage I had in this race when I jumped in six months ago was name ID. Sherrod Brown’s been around 44 years. I’ve only been around seven, in 1/16th of the state. I love when he puts up an ad. Keep putting up ads for me! We found that to be also helpful in the primary because my opponent in the primary went negative, spent money, and in the end we watched our name ID just continue to climb.

Is Governor [John] Kasich involved at all in the campaign? Is he going to help out?

Governor Kasich’s not involved. I talked to him last year during the governor’s race, have not talked to him in the Senate race.

Why not?

I’ve reached out. Governor Kasich’s pretty busy.

So he hasn’t responded when you’ve reached out.

He hasn’t responded.

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