An Ohio Senate Candidate Cloaks Himself Uncomfortably in Trump Garb - Only Hit Lyrics

An Ohio Senate Candidate Cloaks Himself Uncomfortably in Trump Garb

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“The reason why the president endorsed me and asked me to run is he wants somebody who can help him get his agenda done, not somebody who’s going to vote against him,” Mr. Renacci said as he sat in a booth at a chicken-wing restaurant here.

Mr. Renacci, with an estimated net worth of at least $34 million, according to Roll Call, boasts of a long and varied business career, with involvement in nursing homes, Harley-Davidson dealerships, a Chevrolet dealership and partial ownership of an arena football team. A quiet, casual demeanor helped ingratiate him with working-class voters in his district south of Cleveland even as he held on to the traditional Chamber of Commerce Republican vote.

“Businessmen and businesswomen have different styles,” he conceded. “I’m more the quiet style.”


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In Tuesday’s primary, Mr. Renacci faces competition for Trump voters who might again be drawn to someone who presents himself as an insurgent.

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Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times



He has lent $4 million to his Senate campaign.

All of that makes his embrace of Mr. Trump an imperfect fit. For one thing, Mr. Trump pledged to drain the swamp, and Mr. Renacci, who was first elected to the House nearly eight years ago, is testing just how long someone can be in Washington before becoming part of what must be drained.

In fact, not too long ago, Mr. Renacci wanted out of Congress entirely. He had been running for governor, but he switched to the Senate race after Josh Mandel, the Republican state treasurer, dropped out of the contest.

“This is a guy that doesn’t work the room,” said David B. Cohen, a political-science professor at the University of Akron. “It’s unclear whether he really enjoys what he does for a living right now.”

In Tuesday’s primary, Mr. Renacci faces competition for Trump voters who might again be drawn to someone who presents himself as an insurgent. His main opponent is Mike Gibbons, a wealthy investment banker who speaks admiringly of Mr. Trump’s agenda and raised money for him when he was running for president.


“I’m an outsider, and I’m blunt, and I tell the truth,” Mr. Gibbons said at a rally outside Cincinnati on Thursday, where he appeared with Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. (“The establishment is all behind the other guy,” Mr. Paul said of Mr. Renacci, not meaning it as a compliment.)

In an interview, Mr. Gibbons said Mr. Renacci simply did not connect with people and could not beat Mr. Brown. At the rally, he was unsparing. “One of the best things I have going for me is when Jim Renacci speaks to a group, I get more votes,” he said to laughs. “I’d like to increase his speaking engagements.”



Another complication is the issue of trade.

Mr. Brown voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement as a House member and even wrote a book called “Myths of Free Trade.” When Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum this year, Mr. Brown cheered him on.

Mr. Renacci, by contrast, has voted for trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, as well as to give President Barack Obama enhanced trade-negotiating power.

“The trade issue has been difficult for Renacci because he is really your typical big-business Republican,” Professor Cohen said. “Trump’s more populist tone on issues like trade dovetails really well with Sherrod Brown’s position on trade and other populist issues that Brown has been advocating for decades.”


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If Mr. Renacci makes it past the primary, he will face another, more difficult test against Senator Sherrod Brown in the general election.

Credit
Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times



Asked about trade, Mr. Renacci struggled. He suggested that Mr. Brown was focused on protecting steelworkers at the expense of other industries, like farming and manufacturing — precisely the criticism leveled at Mr. Trump. He then suggested that the president is coming around to his views.

“What he’s doing is he’s listening, learning and then he’s going to lead, so in the end I think the tariff policies and programs will change,” Mr. Renacci said of Mr. Trump. “In the end, he’ll get closer to what Ohio needs.”

Mr. Renacci’s embrace of Mr. Trump carries an obvious risk: turning off voters who see a risk that he would simply be a rubber stamp.

“Our president’s great, but he’s not always right,” said Carolyn Robey-Warren, the president of Ohio Carry, a gun rights group that endorsed Mr. Gibbons. She brought up an episode this year when Mr. Trump met with lawmakers after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.


“When President Trump came out and said, ‘Take the guns first; we’ll worry about due process later,’ we want the guy that’s going to say, ‘Hold on now,’” she said. “And we’re afraid Jim Renacci will say, ‘Yes, sir.’”

Mr. Brown is one of 10 Democratic senators who are running in November in states won by Mr. Trump, though the Ohio race is not generally seen as one of the Democrats’ most imperiled seats.

In a western Ohio county along the Indiana border that Mr. Trump won with 80 percent of the vote, Mr. Renacci previewed in an interview how he planned to turn voters against Mr. Brown. He described the senator as a career politician and someone far too liberal for the state that he represents.

“I’ve said all along Sherrod probably could represent Massachusetts very well,” he said. “Probably represent New York, maybe. Maybe even California. But his votes don’t represent Ohio.”

Preston Maddock, a spokesman for the Brown campaign, responded, “While Congressman Renacci finds new ways to help himself get ahead, Sherrod is fighting for Ohioans every day — including working with this administration and his Republican colleagues in the Senate when it’s best for Ohio workers.”

And then there is Mr. Renacci’s bearhug embrace of Mr. Trump, right down to his Twitter rants.

“The one thing I hear a lot is, ‘I love the president; I just wish he wouldn’t tweet as much,’” he said. “And my answer is, if you love the president, you got to love everything about him, including that.”


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