COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP/WCMH) — 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.

“An open Senate seat is about as rare as a Thanksgiving dinner without a political argument and so it will attract a lot of candidates,” said Mark Weaver, Republican Strategist.

Dr. Acton said of her possible run Thursday, “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.”

“Her biggest asset is for a few months last year all of Ohio was watching her closely to understand how to stay alive basically,” said David Pepper, Former Chair of Ohio Democratic Party. “Her name went way up there in a way most people it takes them decades on the ballot to achieve.”

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.

“Ohioans know Amy Acton because of her press conferences with Governor Dewine and she became very popular but running for US Senate is a much different enterprise,” said Weaver.

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, and a host of others.
Kirstin Alvanitakis, the Communications Director for the Ohio Democratic Party sent this statement on Dr. Acton’s possible candidacy:

“We are thrilled by the outpouring of interest in running for statewide office in 2022. It’s not surprising because we’ve always known how deep and strong our bench is and how competitive these races are going to be. As the state party, we are committed
to an open and transparent primary process, but beyond that, we’re going to decline to comment on any particular individuals. We’re focusing on building a strong organization to ensure our eventual nominees have what they need to win.”

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