Rob Portman won’t seek reelection

Ohio Republican Rob Portman will not seek a third Senate term in 2022, a blow to both Republicans’ hopes of taking back the Senate and the chamber’s dwindling number of centrists.

The two-term senator is one of the most effective legislators in the Senate, using his relationships gleaned from a long career in Washington to find compromise. But he cited legislative paralysis in the Senate as a major factor in his decision to retire at the end of next year.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Portman joins Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) in retirement next year in key swing states. Democrats currently hold a narrow majority in an evenly split Senate due to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.

Portman easily won reelection in 2016 alongside former President Donald Trump, but could not be a more different politician. A low-key GOP operator, Portman was never fully comfortable defending Trump’s bombastic political attacks. Portman said in an interview in November he was planning on running in 2022. But the GOP is now undergoing a major reckoning after Trump’s attacks on the election inspired an attack on the Capitol by his supporters.

Particularly now that he is unbound from having to run in a GOP primary, Portman is a key vote to watch in the coming weeks as the Senate prepares for Trump’s second impeachment trial. Portman voted to acquit Trump last year but criticized his behavior pressuring Ukraine to investigate political rivals as “not appropriate.”

The mild-mannered GOP senator is a key part of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s caucus. He attends McConnell’s leadership meetings and is one of the party’s best fundraisers. He’s also a social moderate and was one of the first Republicans to endorse gay marriage.

His decision to retire will also focus Republican retention efforts on ensuring GOP Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Roy Blunt of Missouri run for reelection. Johnson and Grassley, 87, are undecided and Blunt said he’s doing all the things he needs to do to run.

Portman said he announced his decision to allow state Republicans time to prepare campaigns to succeed him in what will be a brutal Senate race. And an open GOP primary to succeed him will be key to the Republican Party’s directions after Trump’s defeat. Trump is popular in Ohio, but it is still a swing state in Senate races. Progressive Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) won reelection in 2018 fairly easily.

The Republican primary could quickly become crowded and nasty, especially as the party works to rebuild itself and figure out the path forward in the wake of Trump’s defeat. A number of Republicans could be in the mix. Rep. Jim Jordan, a close Trump ally, has previously been eyed as a potential statewide candidate.

Several Republicans also pointed to former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel as a potential candidate. Mandel lost to Brown in 2012, and dropped out of the 2018 race against him because of family health issues, but still has $4.3 million left over in his campaign account.

The Ohio Republican will be plenty busy his last two years, as the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee as well as a member in a bipartisan coalition working on the next coronavirus relief bill.

“Over the next two years, I look forward to being able to focus all my energy on legislation and the challenges our country faces rather than on fundraising and campaigning,” Portman said. He predicted he would have won reelection but said he decided against spending another six years in the Senate — and Washington.

And Portman has now served at nearly every level of government. He served in the House, as former President George W. Bush’s budget director and trade representative and two terms in the Senate. He was also discussed as a potential presidential candidate in the past.

James Arkin contributed to this report.


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