J.D. Vance, the author and venture capitalist, won Ohio’s contentious and hyper-competitive GOP Senate primary on Tuesday, buoyed by Donald Trump’s endorsement in a race that was an early test of the former president’s hold on his party as the midterm season kicks into high gear.
A onetime staunch critic of Trump whose 2016 memoir about his Appalachian childhood lifted him to fame, Vance spent much of the campaign behind in the polls. But a late-stage endorsement from Trump appeared to make a difference and the two men downplayed any past tension, with Vance saying he was wrong in his past scathing characterizations of the former president.
In accepting the Republican Party nomination, Vance struck a unifying tone complimenting his rivals — including silencing boos for his most bitter rival, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel — and pledging to appeal to the state’s many moderates headed into November.
“Now this campaign, I really think, was a referendum on what kind of a Republican Party we want, and what kind of a country we want,” Vance told the crowd.
Will face Democrat Tim Ryan
He now faces Democrat Tim Ryan in the general election race to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman. The 10-term Democratic congressman, who easily won his three-way primary Tuesday night, will likely have an uphill climb in a state Trump won twice by an eight-point margin. In a potential warning sign for Ryan, roughly twice as many Republicans participated in the primary than Democrats.
Meanwhile, Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine secured his party’s nomination for a second term and will take on Democrat Nan Whaley.
The campaign is intensifying at a volatile moment in the nation’s politics. On the eve of this week’s primaries, a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion was leaked that suggests the court could overturn the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. While the Democrats decried the draft, they suddenly have a clear, unifying message they hope will offset an otherwise difficult political climate dominated by economic woes that include high inflation and gas prices.
Trump, meanwhile, is using the primaries to build his reputation as a Republican kingmaker as he mulls another presidential run. A Trump spokesperson said the former president’s endorsement “propelled [Vance] into a commanding first place finish.”
While Vance is the Republican Party primary’s undisputed winner, driving up support in Ohio’s rural regions, there was notable support for Mandel and state Sen. Matt Dolan, the only major candidate who did not aggressively court Trump. Dolan notched strong performances in Ohio’s metropolitan communities, particularly around Cleveland and Columbus. Mandel, meanwhile, also found some rural support. At the Strongsville library in suburban Cleveland, Joanne Mondak, 71, said she voted for Dolan because the rest of the candidates are “nutcakes” who are “too much Trump.”
Ohio, once a bellwether state, is now decidedly Republican, posing a challenge for Ryan, who has distanced himself from the progressive wing of his party during the race. Campaigning in sweatshirts and baseball caps, he has fashioned himself as a blue-collar crusader fighting for working families.
‘It’s not about hate,’ Democrat says
During his acceptance speech, Ryan grew emotional as he spoke 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 in 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 Republican Party — with Trump’s help — will elect candidates so extreme they prove unelectable come November. Vance, in particular, has drawn fire for dismissing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as none of the United States’ business and accusing Biden of trying to intentionally kill Trump voters by allowing illegal drugs to cross the southern border.
“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.”