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Analysis: Tim Ryan, Amy Acton Get By With A Little Help From Friends In Possible Senate Race

Neither Tim Ryan nor Dr. Amy Acton have said whether they will run in next spring's primary for Ohio's open U.S. Senate seat.

But if they do, they have friends ready to help.

In the case of Ryan, who has spent the past 18 years in the U.S. House, representing Northeast Ohio districts, the answer to the question "is he running?" is almost certainly yes.

Ryan has been out actively raising money and gathering endorsements – including one from Hillary Clinton, who still holds considerable sway among many Democratic voters.

Tuesday, a fundraising appeal went out on Ryan's extensive email list signed by Fred Guttenberg, one of the nation's leading activists against gun violence. Jaime, the 14-year-old daughter of Guttenberg, was murdered in a mass shooting at a high school in Florida in February 2018.  

"The grief and anger I felt drove me to fight back against the special interests and corporate gun lobbies who've let violence become part of our day-to-day news cycle,'' said Guttenberg, who has family in Cincinnati.

Ryan, he said, "is someone we've been able to count on to not just talk the talk, but take real action to stand up for American families."

The "ask" in the fundraising appeal was for $150,000 in contributions of $10 or more by March 31, the end of the first quarter of campaign finance reporting.

In the case of Acton, it is a different story. She has no fundraising appeals, but she does have a national PAC standing ready to help her if she decides to run.

Last year, in the early months of the pandemic, she became a household name throughout Ohio as the state's health department director, joining Gov. Mike DeWine in almost daily televised briefings, coming across as a compassionate, knowledgeable health professional who could explain a complex situation in terms people could understand.

Then, in June of last year, Acton suddenly quit the job. She was under constant attack from conservative Republicans in the state legislature who were angered by the shutdown orders she and DeWine issued to stop the spread of COVID-19; she even had rabid COVID-deniers, some of them armed, marching in front of her suburban Columbus home.

She went to work for the Columbus Foundation. But she quit that job too, earlier this year, when the drumbeat began in Democratic circles that she might be the perfect "non-politician" candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Rob Portman.

Acton said she wanted to take some time to consider the possibility of running.

There is a national PAC – the 314 Action Fund – which exists for the purpose of recruiting Democratic candidates with a scientific background to run for state and federal offices.

The 314 Action Fund has targeted 67 races around the country in the 2022 election cycle, with the top two priorities being the open Senate seats in Ohio and Pennsylvania now held by retiring Republicans.

The group is pulling out all the stops to encourage Acton to say yes.

"We watched Amy's efforts to lead Ohio out of the pandemic for a long time,'' said Joshua Morrow, executive director of the 314 Action Fund. "She is exactly the type of person we need more of in Congress. Imagine how quickly we could get out of a pandemic if we had more scientists in Congress. And deal with issues like climate change."

The PAC hopes to raise $50 million for its targeted races nationwide, Morrow said.

The 314 Action Fund has set up a website – RunAmy.run – where supporters can express their support for Acton.

"We hope to give her the list of people who have signed up at the website and say, 'Here, look at the kind of support you have,'' Morrow said.

The PAC has also been trying to cajole Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley into running for Ohio governor. In January, Whaley announced she would not run for another term as mayor this year but is said to be still mulling over what she wants to do next in politics, if anything.

Morrow said the 314 Action Fund has talked to Whaley about it.

"We like her because of her background in chemistry," Morrow said. Whaley earned a degree in chemistry from the University of Dayton before getting into politics.

But, for the 314 Action Fund, the Senate race is number one, with the goal of recruiting Acton as a candidate. They will no doubt remind her that two new U.S. Senators – John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Mark Kelly of Arizona – had the backing of the PAC.

The thing both Acton and Ryan have in common is that they don't have much time to mull over running.

On the Republican side, the two top candidates – former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken and former state treasurer Josh Mandel – are both going to be well-funded for both the GOP primary and a general election campaign.

Weird as it sounds for a primary election that is more than a year away, it is getting late in the game.

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