GOP primary for Ohio Senate will be a test for Trump — but likely a victory for Trumpism

On Tuesday, voters in Indiana and Ohio will head to the polls to vote in the primary elections for everything from Congress to the county executive. But there’s one race in particular everyone’s watching: Ohio’s Republican primary for the US Senate. (Don’t worry, we’ll be back tomorrow with a look at other key races to watch!)

This competition has attracted a lot of attention for several reasons. First, it’s an open seat — Senator Rob Portman is retiring — and the election to replace him is wide open. Of the seven Republicans in the running, four or five have a legitimate chance of winning the GOP nomination, and the winner of the GOP nomination will be a heavy favorite to become Ohio’s next senator.

Second, the primary is a chance for voters to nominate a very different kind of Republican from Portman, who served in the administrations of Presidents George HW Bush and George W. Bush and was more willing than most members of his party to criticize former President Donald. Asset. But now loyalty to Trump has become a litmus test in the race to replace Portman. For example, all but one of the GOP primary candidates have embraced Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 election was illegitimate.

Granted, the junior senator from Ohio is probably on the verge of getting Trumpier, but the candidates still fit different molds within the GOP. And even though Trump has now released one of his coveted endorsements in the race, the other party factions haven’t given up the fight either – meaning the primary will be a direct test of Trump’s influence when other Republican elites dare to challenge him.

The race began with a clear favorite: former state treasurer Josh Mandel, who at just 44 years old has already had a long career in Ohio politics, serving in the state legislature and running for president. US Senate twice previously. (He lost to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012 and dropped out of the 2018 race, citing a health issue with his then-wife.) Once a suburban moderate, Mandel has spent this Senate campaign embracing wars. right-wing cultural and exaggerated rhetoricbecoming a favorite of ideological purists in the conservative movement like Texas Senator Ted Cruz and the Anti-Tax Growth Club, both of whom supported him.

However, Mandel struggled to lock in the nomination. For much of 2021, the other candidates released internal dueling polls claiming they were the most viable alternative to Mandel, whom many Ohioans view as an escalating opportunist for the way he is. slipped into the Trump wing of the party.

Former Ohio GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken was the first candidate to pose a threat after Trump reportedly came close to backing her early last year; however, after Mandel’s allies highlighted some of her more established tendencies (she defended a Republican representative who voted to impeach Trump in 2021), the endorsement was never accepted and she returned to the pack. (One notable Republican — Portman — eventually endorsed Timken, but that doesn’t seem to have supported her campaign. She ranks fifth in the most recent surveys.)

That left an opening for political outsider Mike Gibbons, who has the backing of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. An investment banker, Gibbons has spent nearly $17 million of his own money on his campaign, and it appeared to pay off in early 2022, when several independent polls gave him a share of the top spot. In March, however, he nearly came to blows with Mandel in a debate and, tied or not, ceased rising in the polls soon after.

More recently, State Senator Matt Dolan had a small surge in the polls, even pulling in a virtual tie for the lead in one (albeit with just 18%). Wealthy Dolan, co-owner of the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, has donated or loaned more than $10 million to his campaign, but he has a significant liability that could limit his support: He is the only candidate who has been ready to break with Trump. , saying the 2020 election was not stolen and condemning the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Dolan made a point of saying he’s not exactly anti-Trump, but for his part, Trump is certainly anti-Dolan: the former president attacked Dolan for the Guardians’ decision to drop his old racist name, the Indians (a decision Dolan says he opposed).

So the candidate who seems to have the strongest momentum lately is JD Vance, author of the best-selling “Hillbilly Elegy.” Vance entered the race to much fanfare — including a $10 million donation from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to a pro-Vance PAC — but for much of his campaign he was hammered by television ads highlighting his opposition to Trump in the 2016 election. and languishes around 10 percent in the polls. But like Mandel, he dove head-on into conservative grievance politics to ingratiate himself with Trump and his supporters, and unlike Mandel, it worked: On April 15, Trump gave Vance his coveted endorsement, and he has since exploded in the polls. The latest nonpartisan poll in the race, conducted April 20-24 by Fox News, gave Vance 23%, Mandel 18%, Gibbons 13%, Dolan 11% and Timken 6%, with 25% still undecided.

Thus, the last days of the campaign turned into an open war between Trump and the pro-Mandel Club for Growth. The two have long been enemies: the group opposed Trump in 2016, got on well with him during his presidency, but are no longer afraid to challenge him if necessary. For example, shortly after Trump endorsed Vance, the Club for Growth went on to air a television ad highlighting his past anti-Trump comments. When Trump allegedly texted the group’s president to ” go f*^% yourself“, the Club for Growth responded by increase ad buying.

The Republican primary for the Ohio Senate will likely be seen as the first real test of Trump’s grip on Republican voters since leaving office. But while a loss of Vance would certainly be bad news for Trump, it wouldn’t exactly be a repudiation of him, given that much of the argument against Vance has focused on the fact that he was himself anti-Trump. Moreover, a Senator Mandel, Gibbons or Timken would remain (perhaps to varying degrees) side by side with Trump in the Senate. Unless Dolan sneaks in the middle, the Republican Senate nominee will always be a much stronger defender of Trump than Portman was.

Of course, the Republican candidate will still have to beat the winner of the Democratic primary before reaching the Senate. And the Democrats have their own intraparty feud over that seat. Moderate Rep. Tim Ryan is backed by establishment figures like Brown and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and has a large lead in the few Democratic primary polls that have come out. But Ryan has also angered the party’s left wing with recent campaign ads in which he vilifies China for the plight of American workers, and at least one progressive group has endorsed the former senior Consumer Financial Protection adviser. Office Morgan Harper (although others have notably kept their powder dry).

Ryan’s mark as a blue-collar populist is often touted as Democrats’ best hope of securing just their second statewide victory in Ohio since 2012. But Ryan has only made 1, 5 percentage points better than President Biden in his district in the 2020 election, and Biden lost Ohio by 8 points. Given that Ohio has become a Republican-leaning state and 2022 is shaping up to be a Republican-leaning year, the winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary will most likely be the state’s next U.S. senator.

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