Best-selling author JD Vance won the controversial and hyper-competitive Republican Senate primary in Ohio, backed by the endorsement of Donald Trump in a race widely seen as an early test of the former president’s grip on his party as the midterm season kicks into high gear.
Vance’s win ends an exceptionally bitter and expensive primary contest that at one point saw two candidates nearly come to blows on a debate stage. And it marks a major victory for Trump, who has staked his reputation as a Republican kingmaker on his ability to get his chosen candidates across the finish line.
Vance was behind in the polls before Trump entered the race less than three weeks ago, endorsing the Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist despite Vance’s history as a staunch critic of Trump. Vance has since said he was wrong and, like most of his rivals, tied himself to the former president, eagerly courting his endorsement and showing up on his “America First” platform, stressing how the Republican Party has been transformed in its image.
Vance will face Democrat Tim Ryan, the 10-term Democratic congressman who easily won his three-way primary on Tuesday night. But November’s general election to fill the seat vacated by retired Republican Senator Rob Portman is expected to be a tough climb for Ryan in a state Trump has won twice by an eight-point margin and in what should be a Brutal election year for Democrats trying to hold onto their congressional majorities.
Tuesday marks the first multi-state contest of the 2022 campaign and comes the day after a leaked draft opinion from the US Supreme Court suggests the court may be set to overturn the landmark ruling of 1973 Roe v. Wade who legalized abortion nationwide. Such a move could have a dramatic impact on the course of the midterm elections, when control of Congress, governors’ mansions and key election offices hangs in the balance.
“Nutcakes” and “Too Much Trump”
At the Strongsville Library in suburban Cleveland, George Clark, 84, said he voted for Vance based on Trump’s endorsement.
“I know he got bad press, but I know he’s Conservative and I always vote Conservative.” said Clark.
But Joanne Mondak, 71, said she voted for State Sen. Matt Dolan, the only major candidate not to aggressively woo Trump. The rest of the field, she said, are “nutcakes” that are “too Trump.”
Trump reminded voters in Ohio on Tuesday of his interest in the race.
Calling on a radio show from Columbus, Trump praised all candidates for the Republican nomination but said he chose to endorse Vance despite his past criticism of Trump because he believed he was in the best position to win the seat in November.
That of the former president merging of two of the candidates’ names at a weekend rally didn’t seem to affect his support.
“We endorsed JP, didn’t we? JP Mandel. … I think Vance is doing well.”
– Donald Trump 5/1/2022 at a rally in Nebraska pic.twitter.com/x3BPSuAOUQ
While the timing of Trump’s endorsement — less than three weeks before Election Day and with early voting already underway — may have dampened its impact, it was a blow for the former treasurer of State Josh Mandel, Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons and former Ohio Republican. President Jane Timken, who had gone to great lengths to woo Trump and his constituents.
The race will also be the most expensive in state history, with more than US$66 million in television and radio expenses, according to Columbus-based company Medium Buying.
Ryan, a 10-term Democratic congressman who failed to run for president in 2020, tried to distance himself from the National Democratic Party ahead of what is expected to be a brutal November for Democrats. Campaigning in sweatshirts and baseball caps, he posed as a blue-collar crusader fighting for working families.
During his acceptance speech, Ryan got emotional talking about the community his steelworker grandfather was able to build while working a well-paying union job.
“I’m absolutely certain we can do this if we come together, and it’s not about finding our differences. It’s not about hate,” he said.
Buoyed by historical trends and the deep unpopularity of Democratic President Joe Biden, Republicans are optimistic about the resumption of the House and Senate in November. A new president’s party almost always loses seats in subsequent midterm elections, and Republicans are hoping that soaring inflation, high energy prices and lingering frustrations over the country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will further strengthen their prospects.
Democrats, meanwhile, are betting on Republicans — with help from Trump — to elect candidates so extreme they will prove ineligible in November. A Supreme Court ruling on abortion could also galvanize mainstream Democratic voters.
“By all rights, history tells us the Democrats are going to lose control of the House,” said Dale Butland, a Democratic strategist from Ohio. “By all rights, we should also lose control of the Senate. However, the only thing that could save us is if the Republicans nominate a bunch of far-right lunatics who are unacceptable in a general election.”