Ohio energy brokers are attempting to recruit enterprise leaders to run for Rob Portman’s Senate seat in 2022

Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, speaks to media representatives as he walks the Senate subway at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, January 26, 2021.

Sarah Silbiger | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A group of Ohio energy brokers have reached out to business leaders across the state to try to win them for Republican Rob Portman’s Senate seat in 2022 in an attempt to keep pro-Trump contenders from winning that competition.

Some of those who have started engaging with potential candidates are donors and business types close to former Ohio Republican governor John Kasich.

Kasich is one of the most famous GOP critics of former President Donald Trump. He was one of the few Republicans who was featured at the Democratic National Convention that summer to support Joe Biden.

The opportunity to try to win a Republican primary in a seemingly divided party leads some executives to choose not to join. Those raised on the Republican and Democratic side include the CEO of a corporate agency group in central Ohio, a venture capitalist and digital marketing manager.

Some people are reluctant to enter the race because a Republican primary will involve a fight for the party’s base and likely Trump’s own endorsement. If he stands up for it, Trump will likely endorse someone who is more in tune with his agenda than a more traditional Republican. Trump won Ohio in the 2020 presidential election.

Jim Jordan, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, R-Ohio, will not be running for Portman’s seat, his office recently announced. Kevin McCarthy, minority chairman of the House of Representatives, R-Calif., Said in a statement Thursday that after meeting with Trump, the former president “has an obligation to support the 2022 Republican election in the House and Senate.”

GOP politicians with allegiances to Trump who reportedly may be in the mix include Rep. Steve Stivers and Jane Timken, leaders of the Ohio Republican Party.

Political strategists say they are not surprised by the effort to find a business-minded candidate. It is the latest signal that the Republican primary for Portman’s seat will be expansive.

“There will likely be a huge box in the GOP area code with a choice of all ideological stripes,” Charlie Black, a former Kasich strategist, told CNBC. It is “to be expected,” Black said of executive recruitment, “but there will be conservative candidates who are not married to Trump.”

Portman announced on Monday that he would not seek re-election in 2022 because “it has become more and more difficult to overcome the partisan congestion and to make progress in substantive policy”. Portman was a Republican legislature who voted to ratify the electoral college results and confirm Biden as the 2020 presidential election winner.

Executives with Republican ties who have already made attempts to include them in the race include Alex Fischer, president and CEO of The Columbus Partnership, and Mark Kvamme, a venture capitalist who has been in Ohio for more than a decade.

Nancy Kramer, founder of Ohio-based digital marketing agency Resource / Ammirati, said another executive who has come up as a Democratic contender. Kramer’s company was taken over by IBM in 2016.

Fischers Columbus Partnership is a corporate agency for the city of Columbus and central Ohio. Fischer has also been publicly credited for helping keep the MLS soccer team, the Columbus Crew, in town when they considered moving to Texas.

Kvamme and Fischer told CNBC they were not interested in running for the Senate despite being approached. Kramer, who currently works at IBM iX in Columbus, has not returned a request for comment.

“Yes, some people called me. I’m flattered,” Kvamme told CNBC. “Maybe one day I’ll step into the political arena, but my time will be better spent demonstrating to my friends in California that Ohio and the Midwest are the next great place to start and build tech companies.”

Fischer, who was once the deputy governor of Tennessee before moving to Ohio, said he had no interest in running despite discussions in political circles.

“No, I do not think about it privately or position myself otherwise. Obviously there is a lot of discussion in political circles,” Fischer told CNBC. “In my conversations there is mounting frustration about the wider political environment, the inability to solve problems and work across party lines to work together. There is also a desire to see business leaders to become more active,” he added.

On the Democratic side, Axios reported that Amy Acton, former director of the Ohio Department of Health, might also be in the mix. Former Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman said he was considering running. Rep. Tim Ryan, a former presidential candidate, said he was “looking seriously” at running.

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