COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Dr. Amy Acton, the former state health director whose entry into the U.S. Senate race in Ohio had been highly anticipated, said Tuesday she will not run, after all.

Acton, a Democrat, would have brought limited political experience to the race but strong name recognition gained from appearing alongside Republican Gov. Mike DeWine on widely watched virus briefings last year that aired daily online and on television.

Acton, 55, did not address the reasons behind her decision in a statement. Rather, she used it to urge Ohioans to play a role in the shape of the state's and nation’s future, noting that “much has been exposed and revealed” by the coronavirus pandemic the public health expert helped fight.

“Yet as we cautiously re-emerge this spring, we dare to hope that a new way is possible. The opportunity for repairing and reimagining is at hand: a rebirth for ourselves, our relationships, and for the institutions of our civil society," Acton's statement read. "What happens next isn’t the sole province of our elected officials. It is up to all of us. We must co-create an Ohio that ensures the enduring cultural values of kindness and justice for all.”

Acton had garnered important national support for her would-be run, including from 314 Action, a nonprofit political action committee that recruits candidates from scientific professions to politics, which had pledged to spend $5 million on her behalf.

Her decision eases the way for veteran U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan in next year's Democratic primary. Ryan has not yet announced, but has key backing for his campaign from some influential Democrats, including former Gov. Ted Strickland and Hillary Clinton, the party's 2016 presidential nominee.

No Democrat has yet entered the race, however, even as the Republican field continues to grow.

Bernie Moreno, a Cleveland businessman whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when he was a child, entered the race as a Republican on Tuesday.

His announcement said he is joining the race because he wants “to stop the socialist agenda, protect the gains made by President Donald J. Trump, and protect the American Dream.”

The political newcomer made a name for himself in the Cleveland area as a luxury car dealer before turning his focus two years ago to his interest in blockchain — a ledger for recording cybercurrency transactions — and his related technology company.

Moreno, 54, flew to the U.S. from Bogota with his mother and siblings at age 5 when the region was dominated by the radical socialist ideals of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, he said in his announcement, adding that progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have assumed those roles in the U.S.

“If we’re going to protect this country from the socialist left, and keep this precious idea building on the concept of freedom, then we need outsiders who back up their words with action,” Moreno said.

He is the third Republican to enter the race, after former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken. Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons is also exploring a bid.

Mandel, in particular, has used divisive language on his Twitter account as he attacks Timken, DeWine and Democratic President Joe Biden.

In her statement, Acton said, “I know many of us are tired of the vitriol and hate. We are weary from the battle.”

Acton’s leadership working with DeWine in the state’s virus response had made her something of a folk hero and role model for Ohio girls. She inspired a fan club, yard signs and a bobblehead and, just this month, topped a Columbus Dispatch reader poll of people and things that got residents through the pandemic.

But her role in issuing restrictive health orders also prompted intense backlash, including being called misogynistic and anti-Semitic names and facing protesters, some of them armed, outside her suburban home, and resigned in June.

DeWine had declined to comment on her potential candidacy.

Moreno was not always an ardent Trump supporter. In separate posts on Twitter from Dec. 8, 2015, Moreno called Trump Hillary Clinton's “best fundraiser and ally.”

He also wrote: “Listening to @realDonaldTrump is like watching a car accident that makes you sick, but you can stop looking.”

Campaign manager Parker Briden said Moreno, like other Republican candidates in the race, initially supported other 2016 presidential candidates and gave to Trump's campaign.

“He’s been vocal in defending the president from his ridiculous attackers and celebrating his tremendous accomplishments,” Briden said. “Just like President Donald J. Trump, Bernie’s a businessman and political outsider who wants to stop socialism, pass term limits and end the cancel culture.”


Gillispie is based in Cleveland. Associated Press reporter Kantele Franko contributed to this report from Columbus.