By Liz Skalka
Can a centrist Republican emerge from Ohio’s GOP Senate primary unscathed and with the nomination?
State Sen. Matt Dolan is considering whether that’s possible as he tours the state this month exploring a bid for retiring Sen. Rob Portman’s seat.
If he winds up entering the race, the Cleveland‑area lawmaker would be the lone Republican in his lane. Asked whether he’s actively seeking the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, Mr. Dolan shrugs and says he certainly wouldn’t turn it down. When he speaks about running for office, he evokes Mr. Portman, whose pragmatic mild‑manneredness feels to some out of step with today’s Republican Party.
Mr. Dolan hopes that’s not universally the case.
“Well obviously the biggest factor is, is there a path to victory?” Mr. Dolan said during a recent swing through Toledo, where he met with the Lucas County Young Republicans. “The issues that I want to focus on are really making sure that Ohio’s interests are protected and fought for in Washington. Jobs, security, quality education — those are the things that you’re hearing about as you cross the state. I have done things in Ohio that have benefited the state. I want to do that in Washington.”
Mr. Dolan is the only Republican in the vicinity of the race talking so directly about things like jobs, security, and education in terms of action in Washington. Candidates Josh Mandel and J.D. Vance are known for riling followers on Twitter. Investment banker Mike Gibbons, entrepreneur Bernie Moreno, and former party chairman Jane Timken are hewing closely to Mr. Trump and tapping into cultural wedge issues.
Mr. Dolan, a 56‑year‑old lawyer whose family owns the Cleveland Indians/Guardians baseball team, acknowledges the unique space he would occupy in the race in a way that emphasizes his experience. He leads the Senate Finance Committee and earlier this year worked on getting the $75 billion biennial budget passed, which he cited as evidence he’d make an effective lawmaker in Washington.
“If the Republican activists say they want someone like me — because I am different than everyone in the race — I am the only one with experience. I am the only one who can say they got something done. I am the only that can say they’ve been on the ballot with Donald Trump … so I can attract Trump Republicans and I can attract independent votes,” Mr. Dolan said.
Mr. Dolan signaled that split with his potential opponents last week, when he came out in support of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation that Mr. Portman negotiated from the Senate. He was the only one of Mr. Portman’s potential GOP successors who didn’t bash the deal, which Mr. Trump has urged Republicans to reject.
“I think Ohioans want someone to go to Washington and engage, and to me it is really, really disappointing that no other Republican in this race is supporting the infrastructure package,” he said. “Infrastructure is hugely important to our economic development.”
There are bad bills in Congress that he wouldn’t support, Mr. Dolan said, but “if you are ‘no’ to everything, you have no credibility whatsoever. And let’s face it, Republicans had the House, the Senate, and the White House in 2017, we didn’t get an infrastructure bill done. We didn’t get health care reform done. We didn’t get an immigration bill done. You’ve got to send people to Washington who want to get things done.”
Mr. Portman, however, blamed his decision earlier this year to retire at the end of his second term on Washington gridlock.
Mr. Dolan said there’s no hope of that ever changing if voters keep electing “loud, brash people who don’t want to get anything done.”
Mr. Portman’s last election suggests voters may not be done with Republicans like him. In 2016, running on the same ballot as Mr. Trump, he outperformed the former president.
Mr. Dolan does share something with his opponents beyond the “R” next to his name: He said he’s willing to finance a portion of his campaign if it makes sense to do so. Personal financial disclosures filed this week, along with earlier fund-raising reports, reveal the wealth of the major players able to float their campaign millions from their own bank accounts. Mr. Dolan, who didn’t have to file disclosures yet, would conceivably fall into that group.
“If I get in the race, I will self‑fund enough to be a viable candidate, but I’m not going to pay for the entire campaign,” he said. “Part of earning support is going around and getting donors to invest in you, and donors can be $5, or the max of $2,900, and everything in between. I believe that’s an investment — they’re the shareholders now and I work for you, whether you donate to me or not.”