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Republican Sen. Rob Portman Will Not Seek Third Term

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) takes off a mask during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on "COVID-19/Unemployment Insurance" on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. [Caroline Brehman / CQ Roll Call / Pool via AP]
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) takes off a mask during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on "COVID-19/Unemployment Insurance" on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. [Caroline Brehman / CQ Roll Call / Pool via AP]

Updated: 5:32 p.m., Monday, Jan. 25, 2021

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman will not seek reelection when his current term expires in 2022, he announced Monday.

The current “partisan gridlock” in Washington has soured Portman on politics, he said, in spite of handily winning the seat in 2016 for a second time.

“It’s a tough time to be in public service. For many of the issues I am most passionate about, I am convinced I can make a difference outside of the Senate, outside of Washington beyond 2022," Portman said at a Monday morning press conference in his hometown of Cincinnati.

“We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades,” he said.

Portman also said he was making the announcement now because even though he will serve out his term, his mind is made up and "because it will allow whichever Republicans who choose to run plenty of time to gear up for a statewide race."

The senator’s wife, Jane Portman, sang his praises and said she’s proud of him but that they had been talking about this move “for quite a while.”

“Even in these crazy, turbulent, toxic, polarized political times, Rob is still somehow able to keep his sense of decency and his sense of decorum and still get things done for the people of Ohio and for the United States,” she said.

Portman didn’t use the tried-and-true desire to “spend more time with family” reason for not seeking another six years in the Senate, nor did he commit to an individual issue pushing him to depart D.C.

“I don’t think there’s any one thing… I think it’s just the sense that I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I love my family and, you know, I have been commuting for 30 years,” he said. “My attitude is, I don’t think you ought to stay forever. You know, public service is an honor. It’s a calling. But it’s also true that some people stay an awful long time. And a little fresh blood’s not a bad thing.”

Democrats are already gearing up to compete for the seat. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles) sent a fundraising email shortly after the announcement, calling the seat “a must-win” in two years.

“Ohio will be the center of the political map in 2022. We'll be facing competitive races for Senate, Governor, and House seats across the state in 2022,” the email said.

Ryan himself has already expressed interest in the seat. On the GOP side, Cincinnati-area Rep. Brad Wenstrup and former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel are among Republicans considering a run, and Ohio Republican Party Chairman Jane Timken is considered a possible contender. Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said he'll discuss a Senate run privately before making any decisions.

“I'll talk to Gov. DeWine and I'll talk to Sen. Portman, but most of all I'll talk to my family and see if this is something that makes sense, but beyond that I've given no thought to it,” Husted said Monday.

A native of Cincinnati, Portman began his political career with a special election win in 1993, replacing Republican Rep. Bill Gradison to represent Ohio’s Second Congressional District. He held that seat for six election cycles before his 2005 nomination to the post of U.S. Trade Representative by President George W. Bush.

Bush later nominated Portman to run the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), after Joshua Bolten left OMB to become Bush’s chief of staff in 2006. Portman was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as OMB director in May 2006.

He returned to practicing law in Cincinnati in 2007, but two days after Republican Sen. George Voinovich announced he would not run for reelection in 2009, Portman threw his hat in the ring, running unopposed in the GOP primary. He took 57 percent of vote in the 2010 general election, beating Democrat Lee Fisher.

In 2016, Portman easily held off a challenge from Democrat and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, taking 58 percent of the vote and winning all but four of Ohio’s 88 counties.

“Of course, I will always be grateful to the voters of Ohio who have supported me in nine elections to the House and Senate,” Portman said in his announcement. “I am confident that with their support I could have won again but, for me, the question was whether I wanted to serve an additional six years in the Senate.”