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If Trump asks, Renacci may run for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat

Akron-area congressman is currently running for governor

If President Trump asks him to do it, Republican Jim Renacci might switch from the Ohio governor’s race to running for U.S. Senate, Renacci spokesman James Slepian said Monday.

“If the president or White House reaches out and asks him to step in to the Senate race, he would strongly consider that,” Slepian said.

Republican state treasurer Josh Mandel had been the front runner in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate but on Friday he announced he is bowing out of the race, citing serious health issues with his wife Ilana. Mandel has not returned messages seeking additional comment.

Related: Josh Mandel drops out of the U.S. Senate race against Sherrod Brown

Mandel’s departure seems to clear a path for Cleveland area business owner Mike Gibbons, who has won key endorsements, including the backing of the Franklin County GOP. After Mandel’s announcement, Gibbons made moves to shore up his candidacy, pledging $5 million of his own money toward his campaign.

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Even if Renacci gets into the primary, Gibbons is staying in the race, said Gibbons’ campaign spokesman Chris Schrimpf. “We are confident we would defeat Renacci,” he said.

But Gibbons is still relatively unknown and has never held elected office.

Gibbons and Renacci are both Trump supporters.

Kyle Kondik, an American politics expert at the University of Virginia, said a Trump endorsement would help Renacci in the GOP primary. “It could help connect Renacci to national donors, too, although as a sitting congressman Renacci should already be relatively well-known to such donors. The bottom line here is that with Mandel out there is a void in the GOP field waiting to be filled – Renacci makes plenty of sense as someone who could fill it, although Gibbons has been working hard for months and is not without resources.”

University of Dayton political scientist Chris Devine said: “Trump’s endorsement surely would benefit Renacci in terms of fundraising, and one can only imagine that the President would come to stump for him in Ohio. This, as well, would help Renacci in terms of media coverage, recruiting volunteers, and obtaining data for voter targeting.”

The Ohio GOP has a deep bench of experienced officeholders but none have stepped forward to be a top-tier candidate to take on incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown, who is seeking his third term in the U.S. Senate. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi of suburban Columbus, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Secretary of State Jon Husted have all taken a pass on the chance to run against Brown.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, a hard-line conservative, is non-committal about whether he’ll enter the primary.

Related: Butler County sheriff on potential Senate bid: ‘I’m not ruling anything out’

Business owner Melissa Ackinson, of Union County, is also running in the GOP primary.

Author J.D. Vance and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson are said to be considering entering the Republican primary.

The filing deadline is Feb. 7.

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