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Government & Politics

Analysis: Amy Acton Has What the Ohio Democratic Party Needs - Star Power

Dr. Amy Acton, in February 2020, often took center stage during Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's coronavirus briefings.
Tony Dejak
/
AP
Dr. Amy Acton, in February 2020, often took center stage during Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's coronavirus briefings.

So, is the notion of Dr. Amy Acton as a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate realistic?

I don't see why not.

She made her name in the first half of 2020, as Gov. Mike DeWine's health department director; she was a calming, authoritative and relatable figure on DeWine's daily televised COVID-19 updates. She may well be able to parlay that into a campaign for Ohio's soon-to-be open U.S. Senate seat.

Consider:

  • She is the closest thing to a folk hero Ohio Democrats have had since John Glenn, who was in a class by himself.
  • Her supporters created a Dr. Amy Acton Fan Page on Facebook that has nearly 125,000 followers and counting.
  • Her Twitter account has nearly 53,000 followers without her ever posting a single tweet.
  • What other candidate has had her own bobblehead before even declaring a run?
  • She's had thousands of little girls (and presumably their parents) all over the state making videos of themselves wearing her signature white lab coat and saying that, when they grow up, they want to be like Dr. Amy.
  • Prominent Democrats have told me that Acton polls very well in potential match-ups, both in a Democratic primary and a general election.
  • Her name ID is very high, according to some high-ranking Democrats who have seen the numbers in an organized labor poll; and that is always a good thing. You don't have to spend a lot of time introducing yourself to the voters.


"Yes, she is a viable candidate,'' said David Niven, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. "It's a matter of whether or not she wants to put herself through the grind of a long campaign."

Some Democrats question whether Acton has the stomach for what would be a tough primary campaign and in an even tougher general election campaign.

After all, she walked away from her job as health department director in June of last year, after mounting pressure from Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly who thought she was too heavy-handed in issuing restrictions on Ohioans in order to stem the tide of COVID-19.

She was weary and unsettled by COVID-deniers who marched in front of her suburban Columbus home, often bearing firearms.

Who could blame her for wanting out of that mess? Would you like having armed protestors congregating outside your front door?

So, she left the Ohio Department of Health and went to work for The Columbus Foundation's Kind Columbus initiative. She left that job last week to, as she said, "carefully consider" running for the Senate.  

Of course, there is already a legitimate Democratic candidate for the Senate seat in Rep. Tim Ryan of Trumbull County, who has been in the U.S. House since 2003. Ryan, who made a short-lived bid for the presidential nomination in 2019, is out raising money and organizing support for a Senate campaign.

But, as Niven pointed out, Ryan is hardly a household name outside his Northeast Ohio territory.

"In Tim Ryan, you had somebody who ran for president without raising his name recognition in Ohio,'' Niven said. "That's hard to do. How many Cincinnati Democrats do you think could pick him out of a crowd?"

"There is a lack of star power in the Ohio Democratic Party,'' Niven said, "That opens the door for people like (Acton)."

Ryan is no push-over, though. He'll have plenty of backing from organized labor; and Hillary Clinton has made it clear she'd like to see him take the place of Republican senator Rob Portman, who is not running for a third term.

Acton clearly has the backing of the state's highest ranking Democratic elected official, Sen. Sherrod Brown, and his wife Connie Schultz, an influential columnist.

As someone who has made her career outside of politics, Acton "doesn't have 20 years of (congressional) votes for the other side to criticize."

If she runs, she is going to find out that there is nothing easy about being a statewide candidate in Ohio, particularly in Ohio, where the GOP dominates the statewide offices.

"I wonder what is going to happen when she sits down with some political pros who tell her to prepare to spend 90 percent of your time for the next two years raising money,'' Niven said.  "Some consultant is going to tell her that you have to raise $40 million. She may not want to do that."

Niven said his best guess is that Acton doesn't run for the Senate.

"But if she does," he said, "I wouldn't bet against her in a primary."

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