Ohio’s Dr. Amy Acton leaves nonprofit, explores run for US Senate

The former state health director who became the face of Ohio’s early pandemic response is stepping down from her position at the Columbus Foundation to “carefully explore” running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate

COLUMBUS — Dr. Amy Acton, the former state health director who became the face of Ohio’s early pandemic response, is stepping down from her nonprofit position to “carefully explore” running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate, she said Thursday.

Acton would be vying for a coveted open seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who cited divisive national politics in a decision not to seek reelection next year.

“Many Ohioans have shared with me their concerns and the daily challenges they face,” she said in a statement. “They have expressed a need for a new approach that can help them, and their communities thrive. I am humbled by the outpouring of interest and support. For that reason, I am stepping down from my role at The Columbus Foundation in order to carefully consider how I can best be of service at this crucial time.”

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Acton's leadership working with DeWine in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic made her something of a folk hero and role model for Ohio girls. Intense backlash and concerns about safety caused her to step back from the public spotlight, but Democratic insiders say she polls well as a possible statewide contender.

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Some influential Democrats are urging Acton to run in a race that’s already captured the interest of veteran Congressman Tim Ryan, who represents Ohio’s blue-collar Steel Valley, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and a host of others.

Portman’s surprise announcement Jan. 25 that he wouldn’t seek a third term has triggered a dozen or so Ohio politicians to express interest in the 2022 race, and some Democrats are advocating for the party to field a candidate who is a person of color, a woman or both.

Three high-profile Republicans — U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Urbana, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost — have each announced they won’t run for U.S. Senate in 2022. Ohio Republican Party Chairperson Jane Timken has expressed interest in running for the seat.