The air campaign in Ohio's Republican primary for governor has begun. And it’s beginning on a combative note.
US Rep. Jim Renacci, who is positioning himself as a political outsider in the mold of Donald Trump, launched a six-figure ad buy Thursday with “Columbus Fat Cats.” The 30-second spot — the first from any candidate in the race — cartoonishly characterizes his three GOP rivals as state capital lifers.
“Meow,” a narrator begins as three cat-costumed actors, representing state Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, appear on screen. “They’re still lying around: the Columbus fat cats running for governor.”
There may be no better time to run as a Trump-friendly, anti-establishment candidate in a GOP primary. Roy Moore, a right-wing populist with a Trumpian flair, won the Republican nomination for Senate in Alabama this week by beating an appointed incumbent. That Trump backed the incumbent didn't much matter to voters. And the results there are likely to inspire similar insurgent primary challenges in next year's midterms, with or without Trump’s blessing.
The Renacci ad goes on to accuse his rivals of various conservative apostasies, such as siding with term-limited Gov. John Kasich on Obamacare. (Kasich expanded Medicaid under the program. Taylor, whom he endorsed, recently pledged to end expansion, while the others have been been careful in how they address the issue.) The narrator also calls the trio “scaredy cats” for not pushing for right-to-work legislation.
Renacci then appears on screen. “Hold it,” he says. “We deserve a change in Ohio. I’m Jim Renacci. I’m a businessman, not a career politician. … It’s time to clean out the fat cats and their litter box.”
A spokesperson for Renacci told BuzzFeed News that the initial statewide ad buy, focused on cable and digital, will cost more than $300,000.
Renacci would welcome Trump’s support. His "Ohio First" slogan is an obvious riff on Trump's "America First" message. And former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has helped Renacci raise money.
A wealthy former car dealer and Arena Football League franchise owner, Renacci is not a total outsider. He's a four-term congressman and a former mayor. But striking first on TV might be a necessity for him. Polls have shown Renacci is the least known of the four GOP gubernatorial hopefuls. And though Renacci is the first candidate on TV, a super PAC supporting Husted aired ads earlier this month.
DeWine, a fixture on Ohio's political scene, is seen as the early Republican front-runner, with Husted, Renacci, and Taylor all competing to establish themselves as the clear alternative.