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Parties must not interfere in the U.S. Senate race

As Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman approaches the end of his second six-year term, “partisan gridlock” has triggered his decision not to seek re-election next year.

The decision is a blow to Republicans hoping to regain the Senate in two years, after it flipped this year to a 50-50 tie, with Democrat Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.

“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,” Portman, 65, of Cincinnati, said last week. “This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades.”

The announcement came as a surprise. Portman was expected to run in 2022 and has $4.65 million in his campaign fund.

It marks the first time since Portman’s initial 2010 run — in which he defeated then-Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, a Democrat — that there is an open Senate seat in Ohio after Republican George V. Voinovich declined to seek a third term.

Portman becomes the third Republican senator to announce he won’t run for re-election next year, joining Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Richard Burr of North Carolina.

The GOP had come to count on Portman to maintain his seat, typically trouncing his Democratic opponents.

He carried a 16 percent win in 2010, his first attempt at the U.S. Senate seat then being vacated by Voinovich. He boasted an even larger re-election victory — 21 percent — over challenger, former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in 2016.

Portman even carried double-digit percentage wins in general elections when he sought and held U.S. House seats between 1993 and and 2005.

His announcement set off a mad political scramble, as many Democrats and Republicans weigh their options at seeking the seat.

The race will be heated and intense, to say the least. Within hours of Portman’s announcement last Tuesday, names began being bantered about.

Locally, U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, and David Joyce, R-Bainbridge, all representing parts of the Mahoning Valley, have said they will consider a run.

Just about an hour after Portman’s announcement, Ryan sent a fundraising email stating the seat was a “must win” for Democrats to continue to control the Senate after the 2022 election.

The email added: “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. Tim Ryan is committed to making sure Democrats win back Ohio. Will you chip in today to fund our early ground game?”

Other possible Republican candidates include U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan of Urbana, Steve Stivers of Columbus, Warren Davidson of Troy and Brad Wenstrup of Cincinnati, as well as Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Attorney General Dave Yost, Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken and former state Treasurer Josh Mandel.

Other potential Democratic candidates include Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Columbus city attorney Zach Klein and Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes of Akron.

To be sure, each party’s nominees and the ultimate winner must be chosen by the people — not by the party.

That’s why we encourage both major political parties to allow the primary process to play out. History has shown that often major political parties attempt to handpick their favorite candidate by forcing aside others in the party.

One thing we’re certain we don’t need is a party-picked senator.

And so, no matter what party is the victor, we say this: may the best candidate win.

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