Senator Rob Portman’s announcement on Monday that he would not seek a third term in 2022 sparked a shockwave in Ohio politics and set back National Republicans, who were counting on Portman, 65, to win his seat in G.O.P. Hands next year. That afternoon, a crowd of ambitious Republicans circled the race, including far-right representative Jim Jordan, as well as a few prominent Democrats.
One of those Democrats was Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton. Ms. Whaley is a 45-year-old progressive who stood up for Pete Buttigieg in the 2020 presidential primary. She has long been considered a possible candidate for the governor or the Senate. In 2019, she ran her town after a mass shooting that killed nine people.
Ohio Democrats have seen the political tide turn against them in the past decade, and they have lost three races for governor, two in four Senate campaigns, and almost all other statewide elections, leaving Senator Sherrod Brown, 68 as a lonely Democrat remained there to hold a high office. Although Barack Obama won Ohio twice, Donald J. Trump carried it eight percentage points in both 2016 and 2020.
In an interview with The Times Monday night, Ms. Whaley confirmed her interest in becoming a 2022 candidate and said President Biden must act quickly to provide economic aid to the people of her state. The interview has been slightly edited and condensed for the sake of clarity.
What do Democrats need to get back into the game nationwide?
We all realized, after the tight governor’s race in 18 and the tough president’s races, that we need to have an Ohio-specific message. Whether it’s a federal race or a local race, there is a piece of news like Sherrod Brown’s that is going down very well in this state. It’s not necessarily moderate. It is a message to be very real and to talk about the problem that affects Ohioans the most – and that is the fact that they have been working harder and harder for three decades and are further behind.
The real civil war in the Republican Party presents a great opportunity for Democrats in this state.
Looking back, do you think Obama’s success in Ohio made people an unrealistic sense of how purple it was, or do you think Trump’s strength made people an unrealistic sense of how red it is?
I think it’s both, honestly. I think what people forget about Ohio is that it’s an economic populist state, and its economic populism is why Sherrod does so well here. When Trump said, “$ 2,000 stimulus checks for everyone,” I said, “Absolutely, I agree with Trump, that’s right.”
What the people of Ohio want – it’s not complicated. They want to work and they want to be properly paid for that work. This is not rocket science. And for three decades, neither party paid any attention to it.
I think 22 gives us a real opportunity to pinpoint some of these issues in Ohio.
When you say “locate” how much does it cost to admit that the national brand and national cultural alignment of the Ohio Democratic Party is just one big problem?
I get frustrated with the national news at times and it’s not just the Democratic Party. Only often the elitism that emanates from the coasts. That is a challenge.
Michigan Democratic Embassy? This is good news for Ohio.
How does this elitism translate into the party’s political message?
We’ll talk about that first.
You know, I spoke to John Kerry and Gina McCarthy this week about the work on climate change that we all agree on. But the key for us, when you look at what Bill Peduto drove with Ohio and Ohio River Valley mayors: the Marshall Plan for Central America – We have to bring these jobs to the center of the country.
It can’t be easy: “This is great for the climate.” It also says, “It’s a great job maker.” And so we should lead in these states.
Are there things National Democrats talk about that you think aren’t even a matter of emphasis or point of view, but don’t have to be on the agenda?
No, I will not do that. I don’t think there is such a thing. But I think what we often do comes out in a way that doesn’t resonate.
One of the challenges in our group is that we have a lot of smart people in the party and everyone wants to be the smartest person in the room. And shouldn’t we focus on what makes people’s lives better, even if it’s a normal idea?
Do you think Biden could have won the state?
Yes I do.
What would it have taken?
Not to be in Covid. We did not do voter registration in the state. she [Republicans] did.
And then we didn’t get in touch with voters on site, and they did. I’m glad we saved lives, don’t get me wrong. However, this had an impact on our turnout in urban communities and on voter turnout in rural communities. We didn’t do anything.
What do you think the people of Ohio need to see from Biden in the next year, or even the next three months, to –
You need the rescue package. You need to see that something is different and moving fast. They need to see that they don’t have to worry every month whether or not they will be bailed out at the last minute for unemployment and eviction when it is not their fault that the pandemic happened to them and that they happen to be on frontline jobs work that people can’t go to right now because the pandemic is raging. And that we have her back.
Do you think they care that such laws are bipartisan, or do you think they just want it quick?
You want it fast. Nobody cares what’s going on in DC and who voted what. They just want it to be done and that is what we should provide.
Where is your head on your options for 2022?
We will make the decision in the coming weeks. I got a lot of encouragement today, probably every Ohio Democrat gave me their opinion on what to do, which was really nice.
Are both the governor’s race and the senate’s race on the table?
Do you expect to vote in one way or another?
When Jim Jordan decides to run [for Senate]It is very likely that he will win this primary. We recognize that the soul of our state is at stake and that is a motivation for all of us.
What would your message be to a Democrat outside Ohio – let’s say someone on the coast – who looks at the results of the last election and the results from Georgia this month and says, “Why are we bothering each other in these states, in who we are? get our [rear ends] kicked when there are states moving in our direction? “
I would say there are four states that raided Biden and they were won together by just over 100,000 votes. You ignore this as a party at your own risk. We won the referendum decisively, but democracy is really at stake if we don’t pay attention to places like Ohio.
You look to the Senate, you look to our long-term game, and we still have a lot to do.