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Brad Parscale advising potential primary challenger to Ohio's Republican governor

The one-time Trump campaign manager is advising Jim Renacci as the former congressman decides whether to run against Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine in 2022.
Brad Parscale, then-campaign manager for President Donald Trump's 2020 re-election bid, attends a campaign rally at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas on Oct. 22, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

Brad Parscale, former President Donald Trump's one-time campaign manager, has offered his support to a former Republican congressman exploring a primary challenge to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

Parscale confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday that he is advising Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, on an unpaid basis.

"Ohio needs a change, and I think Jim Renacci is the right guy to stand up to Biden’s job-killing liberal agenda," Parscale said.

He also shared a polling memo, prepared this week by Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s chief pollster in 2016 and 2020, that suggests DeWine is vulnerable and that Renacci could beat him.

"This is a very precarious position for a sitting Governor to be in with members of his own party, making him a chief target for a more conservative Republican looking to lead the people of Ohio," the memo, addressed to Parscale, reads.

Parscale, who was demoted from his top position on Trump’s campaign in the months before the 2020 election, has remained plugged into some of his post-presidency political activities. He’s also working with GOP candidates elsewhere, including Caitlyn Jenner, a candidate for governor in California’s recall election.

In a telephone interview, Renacci declined to say if he commissioned the poll but confirmed he's been bouncing ideas off Parscale regularly and that he has been asking Trump alumni for feedback as he decides whether to run.

Renacci's move to surround himself with veterans of Trump’s political operation matches the kind of campaign he is preparing. He has signaled that he would run to DeWine’s right, especially on matters such as the governor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ohio’s gubernatorial primary in 2022 could be one of the most significant clashes between old-guard Republicans and a right-wing base loyal to Trump. The former president is among those who have signaled an interest in seeing DeWine challenged. On Twitter last fall, he speculated about who might run for Ohio governor in 2022, ignoring the fact that DeWine is eligible for another term.

A source familiar with Trump’s thinking said the former president, concerned about Renacci’s loss in the 2018 Senate race, has no plans to endorse him.

DeWine, 74, has been in public office for decades, a testament to his familiarity and popularity with voters. He has praised Trump repeatedly, but also has not made some of the overly performative gestures other GOP leaders have. DeWine also has earned bipartisan admiration for his leadership during the pandemic and early on was one of the most aggressive governors from either party when it came to issuing quarantine orders. President Joe Biden and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, a former DeWine rival, are among those who have complimented him.

Over time, though, DeWine has encountered an increasing number of detractors — some who think he’s done too much, some who think he hasn’t done enough. In March, the Republican-controlled Legislature limited the governor's abilities to issue public health orders.

Renacci, 62, is an independently wealthy businessman who made his money in nursing homes and car dealerships before getting into politics. After losing a Senate bid he launched with Trump’s encouragement in 2018, Renacci became chairman of the Medina County Republican Party and emerged as one of DeWine’s biggest critics. He has argued that the governor’s stay-at-home orders and restrictions on businesses have hampered Ohio’s economic recovery.

Joe Blystone, a farmer and restaurateur from the Columbus area, has already launched a primary campaign against DeWine. The political novice is unknown statewide but has been making the rounds at local GOP functions.

The Fabrizio poll — which surveyed 600 likely primary voters and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points — found that 52 percent viewed DeWine somewhat or very unfavorably, and 54 percent somewhat or strongly disapproved of his job performance. A plurality, 37 percent, described DeWine as liberal.

In a hypothetical head-to-head contest, Renacci led DeWine, 42 percent to 34 percent, including undecided voters who leaned toward one or the other.

"I think the poll speaks for itself," Renacci said. "I've been saying that Gov. DeWine is under water with Republican voters."

A DeWine campaign official declined to comment.

A former web developer who parlayed work for the Trump Organization into high-ranking roles in two presidential campaigns, Parscale was replaced as the re-election campaign manager in July of 2020, weeks after Trump drew a smaller-than-expected crowd to an indoor campaign event in Tulsa, Okla.

In September, police and a SWAT team responded to his home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Parscale was committed for mental health care after his wife reported a verbal altercation and fears that he was suicidal.

Parscale has since said personal and professional stresses had taken a toll. He has gradually been re-emerging in Trump and GOP circles, and is among a crop of GOP operatives and personalities whose services are in demand as candidates across the country compete for any Trump-like imprimatur they can get. Parscale said Wednesday that he’s been traveling the country in a truck and RV, offering his advice and support to pro-Trump policy conservatives.