Polls Show Support for Acton in Senate Contest

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Supporters of Dr. Amy Acton’s potential U.S. Senate bid are touting a recent poll that shows her as a strong candidate in next year’s election. 

The poll by Public Policy Polling shows the former Ohio Department of Health director and Youngstown-area native with the highest favorability rating among five potential candidates and tying or beating all three Republicans.

The survey of 700 Ohioans was conducted March 18 and 19 on behalf of 314 Action Fund, which identifies its mission as electing more scientists to Congress, state legislatures and local offices. 

The organization has been looking at Acton as a potential candidate for office for some time, according to Executive Director Josh Morrow. 

“What happened is a year ago, as COVID was shaping up, Amy popped up on our radar and we watched how she handled the crisis,” he said. The organization’s interest increased in February when Acton stepped down from the position she had taken at The Columbus Foundation after leaving state government. At that time, she didn’t say she was mulling a Senate bid but rather that she would “carefully consider” how she can “best be of service in this crucial time.”

Gov. Mike DeWine appointed Acton as ODH director in February 2019. She stepped down from that position in June 2020 but remained as a health adviser until leaving that post in August. 

Earlier this month, 314 Action Fund launched Run Amy Run, a grassroots campaign to encourage Acton to run for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who announced in January that he would not run for a third term in 2022. 

The 314 Action Fund’s efforts are intended to show Acton that if she decides to run that there would be a national organization to support her efforts, as the fund did in 2020 when it backed the successful Senate candidacies of businessman and geologist John Hickenlooper and former astronaut Mark Kelly.  

“She’s such a unique candidate that she is going to be incredibly successful with the national grassroots community. They are going to absolutely love her,” Morrow said. “Every cycle has that sort of standout candidate and in 2020 Amy has that ability.” 

The Public Policy Polling poll gauged favorability and unfavorability for and hypothetical matchups between five candidates who have indicated interest in the race: Acton; U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, whose district includes most of Mahoning and Trumbull counties; former state Treasurer Josh Mandel; former Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken; and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance.

It did not include U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, who represents Columbiana County and part of Mahoning County, and also has expressed interest in the race. 

Of the five candidates included in the survey, only Acton – who was a near-daily fixture of DeWine’s televised coronavirus briefings for several months – had a higher favorable than unfavorable rating. Of those responding, 44% said they had a favorable opinion of Acton, compared with 25% who said they had an unfavorable opinion and 31% who said they weren’t sure. 

Ryan, who mounted a short-lived campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, had a favorable rating of 25%, slightly below an unfavorable rating of 29%, with nearly half – 46% – saying they weren’t sure.    

Mandel, who was twice elected Ohio treasurer but lost to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown when he ran to unseat the Democrat in 2012, had a 26% favorable rating and a 35% unfavorable rating, with 39% of respondents saying they weren’t sure. 

Most respondents said they didn’t know enough about either Timken or Vance to form an opinion, but among those who did more viewed them unfavorably than favorably. 

According to the poll, 17% viewed Timken favorably, while 19% viewed her unfavorably and 64% weren’t sure. Vance was seen favorably by 9% of respondents, unfavorably by 19% and 71% weren’t sure.  

In hypothetical head-to-head matchups, Acton tied or narrowly beat all three prospective Republican candidates, with Ryan narrowly losing to all three. Acton bests Mandel 42% to 41% and Vance 40% to 38%, and ties Timken with 40%. 

Ryan gets 38% in matchups with Mandel, who wins with 42%, and Timken, with 41%. Vance edges Ryan by two percentage points, getting 39% to Ryan’s 37% in the matchup. 

A separate survey conducted March 15 and 16 of 878 likely Democratic primary voters gave Acton an edge of five percentage points over Ryan in a primary matchup, with 37% of primary voters saying they would back Acton and 32% giving their support to Ryan. 

In that poll, 64% said they have a favorable opinion of Acton and just 5% said they held an unfavorable one. The same poll showed 48% viewed Ryan favorably and 13% unfavorably. 

It also showed 79% of Democratic primary voters approved of Ohio’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Acton was involved in until she left state government last August. 

A volunteer adviser to Acton said she is still considering whether or not to enter the Senate race, and has no immediate timetable for making a decision.    

The polling that 314 Action Fund released shows Acton there is a path to win the primary and the general election as she evaluates her potential candidacy, Morrow said. He has not spoken to Acton but has spoken to people in her circle.

“If you have ever worked for and spoken to scientists, they are very deliberative. What she is doing is what I would expect any serious candidate to do,” he said. “She’s going through the process.”  

Pictured: Dr. Amy Acton, seen here during an April 2020 press conference regarding the coronavirus, is a top candidate for Ohio’s Senate seat up for grabs in 2022 according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.