J.D. Vance, the Trump-backed candidate in Ohio’s contentious GOP Senate primary, has won the nomination, CNN projected Tuesday.
Even as most candidates in the race ran toward former President Donald Trump, the primary is the first Senate contest of the year to test the power of his endorsement.
While Trump did not endorse in the Ohio gubernatorial primary, he played a big role in the contest to replace retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
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 upended the race in mid-April when he backed 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 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 – hammered Vance for his past statements about the former President, arguing that they raised questions about his authenticity as a conservative.
Club for Growth Action, which supported Mandel, 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 who had 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 will win the Senate primary, CNN projects. He had consolidated his party’s support in the contest against Morgan Harper, an attorney and former senior adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ryan will face an uphill battle in this state that Trump won by 8 points in 2020.
As the heated political debate over masking, vaccine mandates and pandemic-era public health protocols had receded, DeWine appeared 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.
DeWine had maintained a wide lead in recent polls, in part because Renacci and Blystone were splitting the anti-incumbent vote on the Republican side as they promised to protect Ohioans from what they say is government overreach.
On the Democratic side, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley will defeat former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, CNN projects. She’ll face an uphill climb against DeWine 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, had hoped 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.
This story has been updated with additional developments.