The Washington Post

#5in5: A conversation with Rep. Jim Renacci

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), left, with his chief of staff, James Slepian, on Capitol Hill in December 2010. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Renacci is also a former mayor and volunteer firefighter who defeated freshman Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio) to represent Ohio’s 16th Congressional District. State lawmakers redrew the district this year, moving it closer to Cleveland and dropping Canton.

He faces Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) in one of two incumbent-vs.-incumbent contests this year. 2chambers spoke with Renacci in mid-September in Washington in between House votes. A transcript of our conversation — edited for clarity and length — appears below:

2chambers: How is the race going?

Renacci: The race is going fine. It’s a good district, it’s definitely 48 percent, 50 percent new, so I’m getting to know the new people that I’ll have a chance to represent. The other side, the 50 percent, already know me, but I’m getting around, I was at the fair this week.

Have you ever run against a fellow incumbent before? How does that change your strategy?

No, but it actually makes it a little easier, because my colleague and I, our directions are different. What she believes and what I believe are totally different. I tell people in the district that we’re polar opposites, so you have an easy choice. This isn’t a race between two colleagues who are conservative. This is a race between someone who’s conservative but who’s worked across the aisle many, many times and then somebody who’s definitely voted 98 percent of the time with the Pelosi-Obama program. So it’s just letting people know where the differences are and then making their decision.

How did Paul Ryan’s addition to the national ticket change the race?

I voted for his budget, I believed that we needed to change the direction. As I’ve said to many people, at least it’s a start and if somebody has a better answer, let’s see it. The district knows it, they understand it. My opponent will always bring up Medicare, because that seems to be a talking point of the other side, but I’ve brought it up too because I’m concerned that it’s stable and around for the future, and if we do nothing, we’ve got problems for the future.

What do you hear most about when you go home?

Jobs. Jobs and the economy and can we work together. Can we work together. For me, it’s pretty simple. I’ve got the Bipartisan Working Group where we meet on a regular basis. I tell them about that, I tell them about all the bills I’ve introduced. I just introduced one this week with Congressman [Keith] Ellison. I tell them that I can work together, we’re getting things done on the House side, but the Senate really needs to take up the bills and vote them down, or vote them up and change it.

Where does the unemployment rate sit in your part of the state?

It’s below the national average. We’re fortunate in Ohio to have the oil and gas industry and the fracking start to really heat up, especially in the eastern side of the state. And that has brought the unemployment rate down.

Does that make it harder to criticize Obama’s economic policies?

I’m not sure the administration gets credited. I’ve said many times like Governor Kasich, although I agree with some of the things he’s doing, but sometimes you’re at the right place in the right time. But when oil and gas is underneath you, you’re in the right place in the right time. But the policies of the Obama administration are not helping those industries, but we have it there, so we have to continue working there.

They’ve got to continue looking at all the other things. My district is against the president’s health-care plan. My district polls against a lot of the things that are going on in this administration. So I just remind them of that and we’ll see which way they vote.

Who is your favorite Democrat?

Well, over here, I’ve got a lot of friends. John Carney, Peter Welch, Mike Quigley, I can go down the list. I’ve actually had the opportunity to work with Barney Frank. All of them, because of the Financial Services Committee, I’m a firm believer that we’ve got to be able to work across the aisle. So there’s a multitude. Prior to the incumbent-to-incumbent race, I always felt very comfortable talking to the other side. Even Marcia Fudge, who I fly back and forth from Ohio with, I’ve become very close to.

Follow Ed and the #5in5 trip via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and share your thoughts — and travel tips! — in the comments section below.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.


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