Ohio Senate primary remains all about Trump as candidates hope for late approval

All that’s missing is Trump himself.

“There are people on the scene who are literally fighting for a vote, and that person isn’t even voting in Ohio,” said Sen. Matt Dolan, the only one of seven Republican candidates who didn’t embrace the lies of Trump on the generalized voter. fraud in the 2020 election, said in a recent Wilberforce debate.
The jockey for a late, groundbreaking endorsement of Trump comes in part because polls show the primary is wide open with less than four weeks remaining until the May 3 primary and early voting kicked off this week. Appeals to voters still loyal to the former president are displayed in candidates’ debates and television ads.
Venture capitalist and author JD Vance has aligned himself with far-right figures who have emerged in Trump’s wake. He defended Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who recently spoke at a white nationalist rally, telling Wilberforce that he listened to her speech and “agreed with almost every word she said. pronounced”.

“She didn’t say anything bad, and I’m absolutely not going to throw her under the bus, or anybody else who’s a friend of mine,” Vance said.

Former Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken often equated being handpicked for that party job by Trump with effective endorsement for that race. She hired two of Trump’s former political allies, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie.

Self-funded financier Mike Gibbons and former state treasurer Josh Mandel also courted Trump aggressively. Gibbons ran as a candidate in the mold of Trump — a former businessman with no real political experience and experience making money in systems he would now like to overhaul.

Mandel focused on Gibbons’ business experience, accusing him during a debate in Cleveland last month of “making millions” in stock in a Chinese company.

“You’ve never been in the private sector in your whole life. You don’t know the squat,” Gibbons said.

“Two tours of Iraq,” retorted Mandel, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve, as he stood up and approached Gibbons and the two stood face to face. “Don’t tell me I haven’t worked.”

It’s all happening without Trump publicly weighing in on the race. The former president has waded into other competitive Senate primaries, including soon in neighboring Pennsylvania, where he told The Washington Post on Wednesday he would make an endorsement in “about a week.”

Mandel and Gibbons lead the pack in most polls. But Timken and Vance also have some support, and all four have flooded the airwaves with ads.

Dolan, meanwhile, is trying to capitalize on concerns among some Republicans that the race to appease Trump and woo his most ardent supporters in the primary could ultimately hurt the GOP’s chances of retaining the seat in November.

A changing state

Ohio in recent elections appears to have lost its former beacon status as Republican dominance among white working-class and rural voters has moved the Midwestern state beyond the reach of most Democrats in statewide elections.

Some, however, continue to succeed. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won re-election in 2018, earning a 7-point victory as Republicans swept all executive races statewide. And Democrats have also won a handful of statewide court races.

The likely Democratic nominee in this year’s Senate race, longtime U.S. Representative Tim Ryan – who challenged Nancy Pelosi for the House Speaker’s gavel in 2016 and briefly ran for the Democratic presidential nomination from 2020 – presents himself as an “all economy all time” candidate in Brown’s mold. He avoided culture wars during the election campaign, instead delivering populist missives against China and international trade deals.

Still, for a Democrat to win in Ohio, broad swathes of independents and Republicans alike would have to find the GOP nominee unacceptable.

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That prospect is the nightmare of National Republicans, who are watching similar potential scenarios loom on the Senate playing field — including in reliable red Missouri, where a top candidate is accused of assault by his ex-wife; in Georgia, where a former Trump-backed soccer star was accused of threatening several women, including his ex-wife; and in Pennsylvania, where the nation’s most expensive Senate primary could leave the eventual winner bloodied.

With control of a Senate now split 50-50 on the line, losses in any combination of those states could jeopardize Republican hopes in what should otherwise be a good middle ground for the party in the current political environment.

In Ohio, Democratic strategists privately say the Republican who would be hardest to beat in November is the one they’re most certain GOP primary voters won’t name: Dolan. Democrats see the state senator, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, in the mold of Portman, who has held the seat since 2011. Unlike rivals including Mandel, who say the election of 2020 was stolen from Trump, Dolan acknowledged the reality of Joe Biden’s victory.

“Let me be very clear, Joe Biden is the rightful president of the United States,” Dolan said during the debate at Wilberforce. “My problem is that he is a failed president.”

Looking into the culture wars

The TV ad battles have also seen GOP candidates make cultural arguments — both Mandel and Vance have launched spots in recent days that try to tap into conservative frustrations with their stances labeled as “racist.”

“Are you racist? Do you hate Mexicans? says Vance in an ad that touts his support for Trump’s border wall. Vance uses the ad to highlight his mother’s struggle with addiction, saying a tough stance on immigration is an important step in tackling the opioid epidemic.
Mandel, meanwhile, says in a new ad that describes him as “pro-Trump”: “I didn’t do two tours of Anbar province, fighting alongside Marines of all colors, to get back to home and being called a racist. There’s nothing racist about shutting down critical race theory and loving America.”

But the advertising landscape has also sparked controversy. The 30-second spot features Mandel standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the historic site where peaceful civil rights activists were beaten by police during a march in 1965.

“Martin Luther King marched here so skin color didn’t matter,” Mandel said.

He also tweeted a thank you to King’s daughter, Bernice King and the King Center “for motivating me to film this commercial. My visit to Selma was powerful and inspiring and I can’t wait to come back and bring my children.”

This led Bernice King to reply on Twittersaying, “Josh: Unfortunately, I don’t believe that I or @TheKingCenter had any legitimate motivation for you to film this commercial, as it is contrary to non-violence and much of what my father taught. I encourages me to study my father / non-violence in its entirety.”
mandel responded telling King to “study your history better”.

“Your father knew the importance of the Second Amendment when he tried to exercise his right to self-defense,” he said, “and was wrongfully denied a gun license by racists anti-weapons”.

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Portman endorsed Timken, who nonetheless frequently reminds the public that she was once endorsed by Trump.

Timken’s decision to hire senior Trump 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was another step in Trump’s orbit. And although Lewandowski is a controversial figure, most of the other candidates in the GOP race have not criticized his decision to hire him.

“Long story short, he was there in the beginning for President Trump,” Mandel said of Lewandowski during the Wilberforce debate — a comment that also underscored Mandel’s apparent belief that his only viable rival is Gibbons.

Only Dolan, in another debate this week, raised the issue of Lewandowski’s hiring, saying that Timken “has yet to explain” to voters why it hired Lewandowski, “who was the subject of a investigation into assaults against women”.

“Corey Lewandowski is a friend of mine,” Timken replied. “He knows I’ve been in the trenches fighting for America First policies because Corey came to Ohio and campaigned for President Trump with me.”

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