Ryan’s entrance into the race would represent a chance for Democrats to prove the party is still viable in a state that has drifted toward Republicans in almost every statewide race of the last decade. Ryan, a Democrat who has represented the Youngstown area since 2003 and mounted a long-shot 2020 presidential bid, is closely aligned with organized labor and often touts his blue-collar roots in the Mahoning Valley.
“I’ve been hearing from Democrats across Ohio and the country who are excited at the possibility of picking up a Senate seat that we haven’t held in decades,” Ryan said. “I have been encouraged by their support, enthusiasm, and commitment. The U.S. Senate needs another working class voice and I’m very serious about the opportunity to continue representing the people of Ohio.”
The congressman has previously flirted with running for statewide office in Ohio. In 2017, for example, he was courted to run for governor in 2018 but decided against it.
Ryan has received some high-profile encouragement to enter the race, including from Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.
If Ryan officially gets into the race, he is unlikely to clear the field, though. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is considering both a run at the open Senate seat and a gubernatorial bid in 2022. Democrats also are growing more confident that Dr. Amy Acton, who rose to prominence as Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s public health director during the coronavirus pandemic, could announce a Senate run. And other Democrats have looked at Emilia Sykes, the young, Black minority leader of the Ohio House of Representatives, as someone who could mount a historic campaign and motivate the party’s base.
“One thing that we have an opportunity to do is show that with diverse candidates, with women and people of color, there is a pathway to win,” Sykes told CNN previously, adding that she is considering a bid. “What we are learning is that when you put women on the ballot, women win. When you put people of color on the ballot, we win.”
Key to any Democratic bid will be the Republican who wins the party’s primary. Portman’s decision to retire caused nearly a dozen Republicans to consider running for the seat, making it possible that the party’s primary could become a crowded, contentious affair.
Some of the possible Republican candidates include J.D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy”; Josh Mandel, the former state treasurer who lost a 2012 race to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown; Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose; and Jane Timken, the Ohio Republican Party chair.
In the past three election cycles, Republicans won statewide races in Ohio for president, governor and Senate. Trump beat Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden there by 8 points in November.
But Brown’s 2018 reelection victory gave the Democratic Party hope that its populist wing could still resonate in Ohio.
CNN’s Alex Rogers contributed to this report.