Former President Donald Trump may as well be on the ballot in Tuesday’s Ohio Senate primary, where J.D. Vance, the candidate he backs, holds a razor-thin lead over his closest challenger in a crowded field.
Vance, a venture capitalist, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir on his Appalachian roots, and one-time never-Trumper, took the lead in polls over Josh Mandel last month, shortly after Trump endorsed him. Vance also won the backing – and a $10 million super PAC donation – of billionaire Peter Thiel.
“He’s a guy who said some bad [expletive] about me,” Trump said of Vance at an Ohio rally last month. “But you know what? All the others did, also. In fact, if I went by that standard, I don’t think I would have ever endorsed anybody in the country.”
Being spurned by Trump was a blow to Mandel, a former state treasurer and an ardent supporter of the 45th president and avowed “America First” candidate. A recent Emerson College poll showed Vance holding a lead as small as 26%-24% in a field that includes former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken, investment banker Mike Gibbons, and state Sen. Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians Major League Baseball team.
The candidates are fighting to replace Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is retiring after two terms. The race is considered one of the most competitive of the November midterms. Rep. Tim Ryan leads in the Democratic Party primary race, also being decided today.
Vance and Mandel, who is backed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, agree on most issues, including a return to Trump’s vision for border security, but Vance has separated himself from the pack with a full-throated call for staying out of the war in Ukraine.
“It’s tragic. It’s terrible,” he said at a March debate. “What Vladimir Putin did was wrong in invading a sovereign country, but we have our own problems in the United States to focus on.”
Polls have been fluid.
A Fox News poll released last week had Vance leading Mandel 23% to 18%, but with 25% of voters said still undecided. That poll also found that 42% of Republican primary voters said Trump’s endorsement made them more likely to support Vance, while 23% said the opposite.
A Trafalgar Group poll taken April 29-May 1 found Vance leading with 26.2% of likely Republican primary voters, but Dolan in second place with 22% and Mandel third, with 20.8%. Dolan is the only top candidate in the field who has disputed Trump’s claims the 2020 election was stolen from him.
At rally on Sunday, Trump seemed to mix up the two leading candidates, exhorting voters to support “J.D. Mandel.”