With Ohio Gov. Bob Taft’s (R) favorability at an all time low and Buckeye State Democrats sensing that 2006 could be a watershed election that returns them to power, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) has joined a short list of would-be candidates weighing a challenge to Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) next year.
Ryan, a sophomore lawmaker from the Youngstown area, joins Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in contemplating a Senate run; he is at least the third Ohio Member to be courted by national party leaders, who increasingly believe that DeWine is vulnerable and are anxious to get a candidate into the race.
When contacted for this story, Ryan’s office referred all questions about his interest in the contest to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
DSCC spokesman Phil Singer declined to speculate about specific candidates or discuss the committee’s recruiting efforts, saying only they believe DeWine is beatable and that “these are all candidates that can win.”
“Mike DeWine has failed to put together a record of achievement for the state of Ohio and a lot of people have noticed that and are taking a very serious look at this race,” Singer said.
A Democratic consultant who has done work in Ohio confirmed Ryan’s interest in the Senate race.
“Are people talking to him? You betcha. Are people encouraging him? You betcha,” the consultant said, adding that Ryan is “absolutely entertaining” the idea of running against DeWine.
Brown is also considering the prospect although, like Ryan, he too is unwilling to reveal much about where he is in the decision-making process.
“I’m thinking about it,” Brown said in a brief interview last week, adding that he believes the Senate seat is winnable.
Brown added that he hasn’t had time to concentrate on a Senate run as he works to whip opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement. While he wouldn’t put a timeline on his decision, he said for certain: “I won’t decide by the end of next week.”
Jeff Rusnak, a Cleveland-based political consultant who has done work for Brown in the past, noted that with the current mood of Ohio voters and the abysmal poll numbers of Taft and other Republicans who control the state’s government, candidates like Brown, Ryan and former Rep. Dennis Eckart (D-Ohio) would be ill-advised not to consider taking on DeWine. Eckart is now also among the would-be top contenders thinking about a Senate run.
“It would be foolish not to look at this race at this point given the current state of things in Ohio, and the climate here, and the mood here and the scandals that are taking place in this state,” Rusnak said. “A strong candidate would be crazy not to look at this race.”
Rusnak also indicated that Ryan’s interest in the race is high, going as far as to assert that he is viewed by some state Democratic insiders as almost certain to run if Brown opts not to.
“He is extremely serious about this and I think really would like to run for this office,” Rusnak said. “I’ve heard that from a number of people who are in touch with him.”
Earlier this year, party leaders tried to persuade Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) to run against DeWine. Strickland has since opted to run for governor next year.
A recent poll conducted by Democratic pollster Diane Feldman of The Feldman Group for the DSCC appears to back up the assertion that DeWine is vulnerable. Only 31 percent of respondents favored DeWine’s re-election, and his favorable/unfavorable rating was 37 percent to 47 percent.
In a head to head matchup with DeWine, Brown garnered 36 percent of the vote to 42 percent for the two-term Senator. Sources said that Ryan was also tested against DeWine in the survey but those results have not been circulated publicly.
DeWine’s popularity dipped in the wake of his participation with the “Gang of 14” Senators who brokered the deal on judicial nominations in May, and some social conservatives are floating the possibility that he could see a primary challenge from the right.
Former Rep. Bob McEwen (R-Ohio) has been mentioned as a possible candidate. McEwen came in second in last month’s special primary election in Ohio’s 2nd district. DeWine’s son, Pat, placed a distant fourth in the race and some observers viewed his defeat, in part, as a referendum on his father.
Still, Republicans remain confident in his re-election prospects.
“Sen. DeWine is a very effective Senator. He represents Ohio very well and he’s in the mainstream, which is where Ohio is politically,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Nick. “He’s in a great place to be re-elected, particularly when he doesn’t have an opponent.”
DeWine recently voted in favor of CAFTA, a trade agreement favored by business groups and opposed by organized labor. Both Ryan and Brown are opposed to the measure.
While Brown, who served as Ohio Secretary of State from 1983 to 1991, has often been floated as a possible statewide candidate in recent years, Ryan is considered a fresh face.
“Tim Ryan would be an outstanding candidate on the statewide Democratic ticket next year,” said Mahoning County Democratic Chairwoman Lisa Antonini. “He’s a viable candidate. He’s a young candidate with a lot of energy. He is an individual who has made quite a name for himself in a short period of time.”
Ryan, who turned 32 this year, was first elected to the House in 2002, defeating then-Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Ohio) in the primary in a heavily re-drawn district. In the November 2002 general election he easily defeated state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin (R) and then-Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio), his former boss who was running as an Independent.
Ryan is anti-abortion rights and he has taken a higher-profile role within the Democratic Caucus this Congress as a member of the “30-Something” working group.
His brother, Allen, serves as his chief political adviser.
Ryan showed $134,000 in the bank on June 30, after raising $70,000 in the second quarter of the year. Brown raised just $62,000 in the three-month period, but showed $1.9 million in his campaign war chest.
DeWine ended last month with $2.9 million on hand.
Both Brown and Ryan represent safe Democratic seats and some strategists are skeptical that either will ultimately gamble on a taking on an incumbent Senator.
“The question is are they willing to give up a safe seat and a job they can have pretty much the rest of their lives in return for taking a flyer?” asked Columbus-based consultant Dale Butland.
Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.