Former President Donald Trump‘s influence over the Republican Party will be put to the test on Tuesday in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary, where his last-minute endorsement has propelled the once-lagging candidate J.D. Vance into a tie for the lead.
Mr. Vance, author of the bestselling book “Hillbilly Elegy,” had been struggling in polls for weeks, stalled behind GOP rival and former state treasurer Josh Mandel, who held a firm lead over all seven Republican candidates and had won several high-profile endorsements.
But Mr. Vance‘s political future brightened considerably this month when Mr. Trump announced he would back Mr. Vance’s Senate bid. The former president maintains considerable GOP support in Ohio after winning the state by about eight points in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.
Two new polls, one conducted by Fox News and another by a Vance political action committee, show the former president’s endorsement appears to be helping.
In March, 48% of Vance supporters said they were extremely interested in the Ohio Senate race. That number climbed 10 points in April, to 57%, following Mr. Trump‘s endorsement. Among GOP voters, 42% said Mr. Trump‘s endorsement made them “more supportive” of Mr. Vance.
A poll released this week by a Vance political action committee showed Mr. Vance leading Mr. Mandel, 31% to 19%. Among Mr. Vance‘s supporters, nearly 40% said they were aware of Mr. Trump‘s endorsement. The PAC-backed poll said Mr. Vance‘s support had increased 13 points after Mr. Trump announced his support.
Overall, the two candidates are tied for the lead among a field of seven Republicans, according to a polling average compiled by RealClearPolitics.
Ohio State Sen. Matt Dolan, businessman Mike Gibbons and former Ohio Republican Party chairwoman Jane Timken, averaged 13.5%, 11.5% and 7% of support in the polls, respectively. Two other GOP candidates poll around 1% apiece.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, has endorsed Mr. Gibbons, while Republican Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Joni Ernst of Iowa are backing Mrs. Timken.
“It would be a mistake to count out Mandel, Gibbons, Dolan and Timken,” Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst for the nonpartisan Inside Elections, told The Washington Times. “All of them have credible cases to make. But I think that there’s certainly a case to be made that Vance has the momentum heading into the final week.”
Mr. Trump‘s effort to boost some other GOP candidates has yielded mixed results.
The former president’s endorsement is falling flat in the Georgia governor’s race, where incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp has maintained a steady and significant lead over former Republican Sen. David Perdue ahead of a May 24 Primary.
In Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump‘s April 10th endorsement of Mehmet Oz in the GOP Senate primary appears to have boosted the celebrity physician in the eyes of voters.
Mr. Oz was slightly leading all Republican candidates in a Trafalgar Group poll taken immediately following Mr. Trump‘s endorsement. A Monmouth University Poll released this week showed Mr. Oz beating investment consultant David McCormick, 20% to 16%, on the question of who is the strongest candidate to handle voters’ top concerns.
Clarus Research Group President Ron Faucheux said Mr. Trump‘s endorsements in both Pennsylvania and Ohio have given the two candidates “badly needed jolts,” showing that the former president’s support may be most influential in a multi-candidate field “where an additional five to seven points can move a third- or second-place candidate to first place.”
But the former president’s endorsements have been met with strong opposition from some of his staunchest supporters, who argue that neither Mr. Vance nor Mr. Oz are conservative or populist enough to deserve his backing.
Mr. Trump‘s endorsement of Mr. Vance stunned top conservatives and his own fans, many of whom are backing Mr. Mandel, a former Tea Party activist, decorated Iraq war veteran, and longtime Trump backer.
“JD Vance has done literally NOTHING for the conservative cause and working Americans. Nothing for Trump,” conservative talk show host Mark Levin tweeted.
Mr. Mandel, who served as Ohio’s treasurer from 2011 to 2019, is endorsed by the conservative Club for Growth, as well as Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.
The Club for Growth infuriated Mr. Trump by running campaign ads in Ohio showing Mr. Vance in 2016 describing himself as a “never Trump guy,” and admitting he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 because he “couldn’t stomach Trump.”
According to media reports, an angry Mr. Trump asked an aide to send Club for Growth President Dave McIntosh, whom he had publicly praised at a North Carolina rally just two weeks earlier, a message: “Go f—- yourself.”
At a rally in Delaware, Ohio on Saturday, Mr. Trump, who has long been criticized by some in his own party, explained his decision to endorse Mr. Vance, who “said some bad s—- about me,” he acknowledged.
“If I went by that standard, I don’t think I would have ever endorsed anyone in the country,” Mr. Trump said.
A spokesperson for Mr. Mandel did not respond to a request for a comment about the race.
A spokesperson for the Vance campaign told The Washington Times, “JD is in a strong position, and we are confident JD will be the Republican nominee.”