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Former Rep. Jim Renacci announces primary challenge to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine

Renacci, who served eight years in Congress, will look to appeal to supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, speaks at the Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport on Oct. 31, 2018, in Mansfield, Ohio.
Then-Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, speaks at the Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport on Oct. 31, 2018, in Mansfield, Ohio.Tony Dejak / AP file

CLEVELAND — Former Rep. Jim Renacci said Wednesday that he will challenge Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in next year's Republican primary.

Renacci announced that he was running on Cleveland’s WTAM 1100 radio station.

"Ohio cannot afford for Mike DeWine to be the governor anymore," Renacci told the Cincinnati Enquirer in an interview.

The move sets up a battle between DeWine, an old-guard conservative who earned bipartisan praise for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and Renacci, who has criticized DeWine's decisions as detrimental to businesses.

Renacci will work to align himself closely with people in former President Donald Trump's orbit, as well as to appeal to Trump's supporters. NBC News was first to report last month that Brad Parscale, one of Trump’s former campaign managers, was advising Renacci. Parscale recently traveled to Wadsworth, Ohio, where Renacci lives and used to be mayor, to film footage for a campaign launch.

Renacci, 62, is a wealthy businessman who made his money in nursing homes and car dealerships before getting into politics. Since giving up his House seat and losing a 2018 Senate race, he has served as chairman of the Medina County Republican Party in exurban Cleveland.

DeWine, 74, is a fixture of Ohio politics — a former lieutenant governor, attorney general and U.S. senator who fulfilled a long-held ambition of being governor in 2018. He’s been a supporter of Trump's, though has not gone to lengths that other Republicans, including Renacci, have. After DeWine recognized Joe Biden as the winner of last year's presidential election, Trump publicly hinted that he'd like to see a primary challenge.

A source close to the former president told NBC News last month that Trump is unlikely to endorse Renacci, noting that Trump was not impressed with the former congressman's performance in the 2018 race against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

A recent poll of likely Ohio GOP primary voters shared by Parscale and conducted by Tony Fabrizio, Trump's chief pollster in 2016 and 2020, found that 52 percent viewed DeWine somewhat or very unfavorably, and 54 percent somewhat or strongly disapproved of his job performance. In a head-to-head match up, Renacci led DeWine 42 percent to 34 percent, inclusive of voters who leaned toward one candidate or the other.

Joe Blystone, a politically unknown farmer and restaurateur from the Columbus area, previously announced his candidacy for the GOP candidate.

There has been little public polling on DeWine since last year, when Ohioans gave him high marks for his leadership during the pandemic.

At a GOP event last month in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville, many of the several hundred attendees booed at any mention of DeWine and showered Blystone, the only candidate for governor to attend, with hearty cheers.