Ohio GOP Senate primary goes down to the wire in key test of Trump’s influence

All eyes are on two Republican primaries in the Buckeye State: The Senate contest will determine the nominee to replace retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman, while the gubernatorial primary will show whether Gov. Mike DeWine can successfully beat back two challengers from his right flank as he seeks a second term.

With Democrats and Republicans fighting for control of Congress this fall, which will determine whether President Joe Biden can advance any aspect his agenda after 2022, nearly half of the most competitive US Senate matchups will likely be set by the end of this month.
In Ohio, a reddening state that Trump won twice, the former President has backed J.D. Vance, the venture capitalist and “Hillbilly Elegy” author who was an unabashed critic of Trump in 2016 but now says his initial judgment of him was wrong.

“It’s OK to change your mind. In fact, you should change your mind when the facts change and I think that’s the truth about my view of President Trump,” Vance said Monday.

Trump’s endorsement of Vance may have created a jolt of momentum for the author, helping him roughly double his support between a Fox poll in March and another one in April.

But most of the other top GOP candidates vying for Ohio’s Senate seat — including former state treasurer Josh Mandel, businessman Mike Gibbons and former state party chair Jane Timken, who all sought Trump’s endorsement — have hammered Vance for his past statements about the former President, arguing that they raise questions about his authenticity as a conservative.

Club for Growth Action, which is supporting Mandel, has pounded that theme in the closing days of the race — seeking to capitalize on the fact that roughly a quarter of GOP primary voters were still undecided, according to the April Fox poll in which half of those who expressed a candidate preference said they could change their minds.
State Sen. Matt Dolan, the only Republican in the race who has urged the GOP to move on from the 2020 election and rejected Trump’s false claims about the results, saw his support increase in that poll from the previous month but hasn’t been at the top of the pack.
Trump pointed to the power of his endorsements during a Nebraska rally last weekend where he mentioned his chosen Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz, and Vance, though he mangled Vance’s name — appearing to confuse the author with Mandel, Vance’s chief rival, before correcting himself. (Oz is in a tight race with former hedge fund executive David McCormick in Pennsylvania, which holds its primaries on May 17.)

Addressing Vance’s past criticism during a tele-rally for him on the eve of the election, Trump said Vance has “said some negative things about me, but he’s made up for it in spades.”

“I think I can say that he’s 1,000% with us,” the former President added.

Mandel, in turn, got an assist in the final days on the campaign trail from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who urged Ohio Republicans to pay less attention to endorsements and more to the consistency of a candidate’s record as a conservative.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Tim Ryan appears to have consolidated his party’s support in the primary as he seeks to defy Democrats’ odds in this state in November. On Tuesday, he faces Morgan Harper, an attorney and former senior adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Ohio gubernatorial primaries

As the heated political debate over masking, vaccine mandates and pandemic-era public health protocols has receded, DeWine appears poised to overcome challenges from former US Rep. Jim Renacci and farmer Joe Blystone.

The governor, who has built deep ties in Republican circles over many years of public service in Ohio, won national acclaim in the early days of the pandemic for his careful handling of the rise in Covid-19 cases. But as pandemic restrictions became more polarizing, he became a frequent target of the right and of Trump, which appeared to make him vulnerable as he set out to win a second term as governor.

Despite his harsh words about DeWine, though, Trump steered clear of the race, which kept his base from consolidating behind any one candidate.

Undecided voters could make for an unpredictable Ohio primary outcome
DeWine has maintained a wide lead in recent polls, in part because Renacci and Blystone are splitting the anti-incumbent vote on the Republican side as they promise to protect Ohioans from what they say is government overreach.
On the Democratic side, former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley are vying to be the nominee in what would be an uphill climb against the GOP nominee in November.

In Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, there’s a rematch between Democratic Rep. Shontel Brown and Nina Turner. Brown won the support of Biden as well as some moderate-aligned outside groups, but Turner, a former Ohio state senator who was a key player on the presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is hoping to galvanize progressives to carry her to victory in the newly drawn district, which includes more of Cleveland.

In Indiana, GOP Sen. Todd Young and Democrat Thomas McDermott, who is the mayor of Hammond, are running uncontested in their respective Senate primaries on Tuesday.

Paul LeBlanc, Gabby Orr and Ethan Cohen contributed this report.

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