Former Ohio GOP Congressman Jim Renacci on Wednesday launched his campaign to challenge the state’s incumbent governor, Mike DeWine, in the Republican primary next year.

A member of Congress from 2011 to 2019, the 62-year-old Renacci briefly ran for governor before launching a U.S. Senate campaign in 2018; he ultimately lost to Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown by nearly 7 points. 

DeWine has faced criticism from some Ohio conservatives over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic for enacting more pandemic restrictions than other Republican governors. Renacci is hoping that the GOP base’s anger with DeWine will carry over to next spring’s primary. 

“He destroyed our economy, closed businesses that will never return, canceled an election and kept our children out of the classrooms,” Renacci said in an interview with radio station WTAM on Wednesday, when he announced his candidacy. “He will claim he saved lives, but look around. He’s destroyed lives, hurt families and ruined our economy. All the while, he catered to special interest groups instead of helping people. He’s more interested in being the Andrew Cuomo of Ohio, rather than actually helping everyday Ohioans.”

Renacci said in the interview that he has polling that indicates much of the Republican base does not support DeWine. 

In another interview with the same radio station on Thursday, Renacci called DeWine a friend but said DeWine’s “policies are unfriendly to Ohio.” He said he switched from the gubernatorial race to the Senate in 2018 because former President Trump asked him to jump in. 

After DeWine recognized President Biden’s win last November, Mr. Trump tweeted that the state’s gubernatorial race would be “hotly contested.” Mr. Trump won Ohio by 8 points in November and has not yet endorsed a candidate in the Ohio primary. 

“Trump is still a friend,” Renacci told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I think in the end if I get an opportunity to talk with him, which I’m hoping to be able to do that, he’ll see that Jim Renacci has a really good opportunity.” 

Renacci is the first major Republican challenger to DeWine, who is expected to seek reelection. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is running for the Democratic nomination.