“He can vault someone to the top, so it’s definitely, today is a victory for Trump, but again I think it’s very early,” said Dan Eberhart, a Trump donor. “He’s going to be consumed with the victory lap, but there’s a lot of trick wires to whether his support of him matters in these primaries. This was a relatively easy victory, and the calendar gets harder from here.”
In Ohio’s Republican primary for the US Senate, the winner was JD Vance, a venture capitalist and author who reinvented himself as a Trump loyalist and secured the former president’s endorsement last month. In November, he will face Rep. Tim Ryan, a yoga-loving, moderate Democrat who has long stressed his blue-collar credentials.
JD Vance, with a Trump boost, clinches Senate GOP primary in Ohio
In a Democratic primary for a Cleveland-based House seat, Rep. Shontel M. Brown, who was endorsed by Biden, defeated former state senator Nina Turner, who ran to Brown’s left and linked the incumbent to Biden’s stalled legislative agenda. The race was a rematch of an expensive August 2021 special election, in which Biden had remained neutral.
JR Majewski, a Trump devotee who has been associated with the QAnon extremist group, won his primary to take on Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D). Majewski attended the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal rally” in Washington, which preceded a violent and deadly assault on the US Capitol that day by a pro-Trump mob. He has twice decorated his lawn with odes to Trump, drawing headlines during the 2020 presidential election for painting a massive Trump 2020 campaign sign on his yard and later a huge portrait of Trump’s face.
“He’s a great guy, and he’s in there fighting for whatever the hell he’s fighting for,” Trump said at a rally last week for Vance, speaking about Majewski. (Majewski also attended.) “I don’t care. I love him.”
Although some recent polls have shown Biden and Trump to be polarizing figures, and each has disappointed many in his own party, Ohio voters lined up behind candidates who match their political styles, suggesting that at least in the early stages of the year’s primary season, it’s still very much Trump’s party vs. Biden’s party.
But both leaders will face difficult tests in coming months. Other Republicans are jockeying for supremacy in the party and positioning themselves for potential presidential runs in 2024, even as Trump has hinted that he intends to run again. Trump also has placed some risky bets in upcoming primaries, and his continued false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him have alienated some in his party.
Biden’s approval rating remains mired in negative territory, prompting many Democrats to brace for difficult midterms.
Primaries in May will continue to test the power of Trump’s endorsements in primaries from Georgia to Nebraska to Pennsylvania, where some of his preferred candidates are far from sure bets to win.
The dynamics of the May 17 GOP primary for the US Senate in Pennsylvania are similar to those in neighboring Ohio, offering encouraging signs for Trump. There he also backed the candidate with the made-for-television, established media personality over the party’s more conventional choice — Mehmet Oz, the TV doctor who is in a competitive race with businessman David McCormick.
In Georgia, which holds its primary May 24, Trump is backing former senator David Perdue over Gov. Brian Kemp in the Republican gubernatorial primary — a Trump matchup cares deeply about because he blames Kemp for not blocking the certification of Biden’s 2020 victory there. Perdue is trailing Kemp, polls show.
Vance’s win in Ohio was a significant political victory for Trump in the first big ballot box test of his power since leaving the White House. The endorsement provided valuable in the final stage of the race, for Vance, a onetime Trump critic who ran as a champion of the former president who has embraced his combative style.
[Follow the Ohio primary results here]
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich issued a statement attributing Vance’s win to Trump’s endorsement more than any other factor.
“The power of President Trump’s endorsement is undeniable, his dominance over the Republican powerbrokers in DC cannot be overstated, and the promise of this MAGA Movement will not just define the Midterms, but it will win for years to come,” he said.
The last-minute endorsement from Trump catapulted Vance to the top of a large field. Trump’s support helped blunt the impact of attack ads from the conservative Club for Growth that focused on criticisms Vance had made of Trump years ago.
“Thanks to the president for everything, for endorsing me. I’ve got to say, a lot of the fake news media out there, and there’s some good ones in the back there, there’s some bad ones, too, let’s be honest, but they wanted to write a story that this campaign would be the death of Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda,” Vance said at his victory speech, using rhetoric in line with the former president’s typical language.
As is often the case at Trump’s rallies, Vance’s supporters booed at the mention of the news media, and a man yelled, “Donald Trump!”
The race between Vance and Ryan was already kicking into gear by Wednesday morning.
Ryan’s campaign had an attack ad against Vance teed up, casting him as a wannabe celebrity author who made millions as a venture capitalist. “What a joke,” Ryan says in the ad.
In the days before the primary, Vance previewed how he would run against Ryan to an audience near Youngstown — zeroing in on his support for the Biden agenda and the economically struggling region he has represented in the House. Ryan has at times been critical of Biden in an effort to win over voters displeased with the president.
“The thing you’ve got to do with Tim Ryan is just paint the guy as a fraud, right?” Vance said. “For 20 years, he’s failed the people of this area, and now he wants a promotion.”
The winner will replace retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman, whose positions often aligned with Trump but whose soft-spoken demeanor did not match the former president’s style. Portman also showed a willingness to work with Biden, including on a sweeping infrastructure law.
Though the outcome of the Republican Senate primary remained in doubt until the end, Ryan was long favored to win his primary. He fended off a primary challenge from Morgan Harper, a lawyer formerly with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who supported Medicare-for-all and other liberal priorities.
In the Cleveland-based House race Tuesday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) endorsed Turner, but the candidate was hurt by her past criticism of the Biden.
Biden didn’t weigh in on other Tuesday races, but Trump-backed or Trump-like candidates prevailed in a number of primaries. Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, a Miss Ohio winner endorsed by Trump, beat back six rivals in the GOP primary for the newly drawn 13th Congressional District. In Ohio’s 7th District, Trump-endorsed Max Miller won easily, after two members of Congress retired instead of squaring off against Miller in an intraparty battle.
Loyalty to Trump appeared to be a decisive issue in Majewski’s primary. Another candidate in the race, state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, struggled to live down her initial reaction to the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump was recorded bragging in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women. Gavarone had said she was “disappointed and outraged” by Trump’s remarks on the tape; state Rep. Craig Riedel (R) attacked her as a “Never Trump RINO” candidate.
Trump’s coattails stretched into Indiana, which also held its primary Tuesday night. Veteran Jennifer-Ruth Green defeated former LaPorte mayor Blair Milo for the GOP nomination in the state’s 1st Congressional District. In TV ads, Green hammered Milo for criticizing Trump after he won the 2016 Republican nomination; Milo had told a local newspaper that she “didn’t feel comfortable” attending that year’s party convention.