Bestselling author J.D. Vance has won Ohio’s contentious and hyper-competitive Republican Senate primary, buoyed by Donald Trump’s endorsement in a race widely seen as an early test of the former president’s hold on his party as the midterm season kicks into high gear.
Vance’s win brings to a close 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 pull his chosen candidates across the finish line.
Vance had been behind in the polls before Trump waded into the race less than three weeks ago, endorsing the Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist despite Vance’s history as a staunch Trump critic. Vance has since said he was wrong and, like most of his rivals, tied himself to the former president, eagerly courting his endorsement and running on his “America First” platform, underscoring the extent to which the Republican Party has transformed in his image.
Vance will face Democrat Tim Ryan, the 10-term Democratic congressman who easily won his three-way primary Tuesday night. But November’s general election to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman is expected to be an uphill climb for Ryan in a state Trump won twice by an eight-point margin and in what is expected to be a brutal election year for Democrats trying to hold their congressional majorities.
Tuesday marks the first multistate contest of the 2022 campaign and comes the day after the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that suggests the court could be poised to overturn the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Such a decision could have a dramatic impact on the course of the midterms, when control of Congress, governors’ mansions and key elections offices are at stake.
‘Nutcakes’ and ‘too much Trump’
At the Strongsville library in suburban Cleveland, 84-year-old George Clark said he voted for Vance based on Trump’s endorsement.
“I know he’s had some bad press, but I know he’s a conservative and I always vote for conservatives.” Clark said.
But Joanne Mondak, 71, said she voted for state Sen. Matt Dolan, the only major candidate who did not aggressively court Trump. The rest of the field, she said, are “nutcakes” who are “too much Trump.”
Trump on Tuesday reminded Ohio voters of his stake in the race.
Calling into a Columbus radio show, Trump praised all the candidates seeking the Republican nomination, but said he chose to endorse Vance despite his past Trump criticism because he believes he is best positioned to win the seat in November.
The former president’s conflation of two of the candidates’ names at a rally on the weekend didn’t seem to affect his support.
“We endorsed J.P., right? JP Mandel. … I think Vance is doing well.”<br><br>– Donald Trump 5/1/2022 in Nebraska rally <a href=”https://t.co/x3BPSuAOUQ”>pic.twitter.com/x3BPSuAOUQ</a>
While the timing of Trump’s endorsement — less than three weeks before Election Day and as early voting was already underway — may have dulled its impact, it was a major blow to former state treasurer Josh Mandel, Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken, who had all gone to elaborate lengths to court Trump and his voters.
The race will also go down as the most expensive in state history, with more than $66 million US in TV and radio spending alone, according to the Columbus-based Medium Buying firm.
Ryan, a 10-term Democratic congressman who ran a failed bid for president in 2020, has 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 has fashioned himself as a blue-collar crusader fighting for working families.
During his acceptance speech, Ryan grew emotional when speaking about the community his steelworker grandfather was able to build while holding a well-paying union job.
“I am absolutely in my bones certain that 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 Democratic President Joe Biden’s deep unpopularity, Republicans are optimistic about retaking the House and Senate come November. A new president’s party almost always loses seats in subsequent midterm elections and Republicans hope soaring inflation, high energy prices and lingering frustrations over the country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will further boost their prospects.
Democrats, meanwhile, are banking the Republicans — with Trump’s help — will elect candidates so extreme they prove unelectable come November. A Supreme Court decision on abortion could also galvanize traditional Democratic voters.
“By all rights, history tells us that the Democrats are going to lose control of the House,” said Dale Butland, a Democratic strategist in Ohio. “By all rights, we should lose control of the Senate, too. However, the only thing that could save us is if the Republicans nominate a bunch of far-right crazies that are unacceptable in a general election.”