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Ohio’s Jim Renacci Echoes Trump on Harley Davidson

Former Harley Davidson dealer features motorcycles prominently in his ads

Rep. Jim Renacci, a former Harley Davidson dealer, is running against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jim Renacci, a former Harley Davidson dealer, is running against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Ohio Republican James B. Renacci, a former Harley Davidson dealer, is trying to ride President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade measures to victory in the Ohio Senate race.

The recent trade dispute with Harley Davidson is just the latest example.

Renacci rode his Harley Davidsons into the 2018 campaign. His debut ads — first for governor and then later for Senate (after he switched races earlier this year) — show the four-term Republican tinkering with Harleys and cruising along country roads wearing a black leather jacket.

Renacci echoed the president’s criticism of Harley Davidson on Tuesday, blaming the company for using recent tariffs as an excuse to justify an earlier decision to move American jobs overseas.

In running against Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who has long been more in line with President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade views, Renacci’s trying to stick close to Trump, hoping it’ll help him replicate the president’s success in a state he carried by 8 points in 2016.  

“Harley Davidson made the decision earlier this year to move jobs to Thailand before the tariffs were even announced. Now they are trying to use the tariffs to excuse and deflect from that decision,” the congressman said in a statement to Roll Call Tuesday afternoon.

“As a rider and owner of a Harley Davidson and as a former Harley Davidson dealer, I condemn this decision and I strongly urge them to reconsider it,” Renacci said.

On Tuesday morning, Trump — who’s also expressed a certain cultural affinity for Harley Davidson and its riders — lashed out at the company. He tweeted that its “employees and customers are already very angry at them.”

Trump has suggested that Harley Davidson was using the recent tariffs to justify shipping shops overseas to a plant to Thailand. A labor union representing Harley Davidson employees made a similar charge.

But the motorcycle company announced on Monday that it was moving some more production overseas in response to tariffs imposed by the European Union in retaliation against the U.S. for tariffs the Trump administration put on foreign steel and aluminum.  

Renacci is the 16th wealthiest member of Congress, according to Roll Call’s Wealth of Congress Index. He’s made his money from a conglomeration of businesses, including Harley Davidson dealerships. In his introductory Senate ad, he’s seen walking through a dealership, as the narrator touts his job-creating experience.

A member of the moderate Main Street Partnership, Renacci has supported past trade agreements. He voted for agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and voted to give former President Barack Obama trade promotion authority in 2015. But he has said he’d be open to renegotiating those earlier deals.

His campaign points out that he has always been supportive of tariffs on China, and argues that his support for the president’s trade measures are consistent with his long-held views.

After initially responding to Trump’s trade measures cautiously — telling the Columbus Dispatch in March that trade policy should be “more of scalpel approach, not a shotgun approach” — Renacci has stuck by Trump’s trade measures. Renacci doesn’t see Harley Davidson’s decision as symptomatic of any backlash against Trump’s trade measures. 

His campaign argues that the tariffs against China are having a “positive impact” in Ohio, pointing to the recent proposal from JSW Steel, an Indian company, to invest $500 million in rebuilding a steel plant in Mingo Junction instead of building a new facility in India.

Both Renacci and Brown praised that announcement last week.

Running for his third term, Brown is known for his protectionist trade views, and has historically aligned closer to what has become the president’s populist message on trade than his Republican opponent. He voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement and penned a book called the “Myths of Free Trade.”

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Leans Democratic.

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