Author JD Vance won the Senate Republican primary in Ohio on Tuesday, securing a victory after receiving Donald Trump’s endorsement in the hotly contested race.
Vance was leading the crowded pack of primary candidates with 32% of the vote when the Associated Press called the race, about two hours after polls closed. Former state treasurer Josh Mandel looked likely to finish second, and state Senator Matt Dolan, who saw a last-minute surge in support, rounded out the top three.
Addressing supporters in Cincinnati, Vance thanked Trump for his endorsement and attacked the media for highlighting his past criticism of the former president. “They wanted to write a story that this campaign would be the death of Donald Trump’s America First agenda,” Vance said. “It ain’t the death of the America First agenda.”
Vance, the bestselling author of the memoir Hillbilly Elegy, will now face Democratic congressman Tim Ryan in November to determine who will fill the seat of retiring Republican Senator Rob Portman. Ryan, who ran for president in 2020, easily fended off a primary challenge from progressive candidate Morgan Harper.
Delivering a message of unity to his supporters on Tuesday, Ryan promised to “build a home for Ohioans” regardless of their political party. “The work is just beginning. The fight is just beginning. We’re going to heal the country – heal Ohio and in turn heal the United States of America,” Ryan said in Columbus.
The Ohio race could prove crucial in determining control of the Senate, as Republicans look to retake the upper chamber this November. The Senate is currently evenly split 50-50, but Democrats have the majority thanks to the tie-breaking vote of Kamala Harris.
If Republicans can pick up just one seat in the midterm elections, they will regain control of the Senate, and holding Portman’s seat will be key to those efforts.
Vance starts his general-election campaigning with a clear advantage in the race, as Trump defeated Joe Biden in Ohio by 8 points in 2020. Democrats across the country are also at a disadvantage, as the president’s party usually loses seats in the midterm elections and Biden’s approval rating has been mired in the low 40s for months.
Despite the obvious challenges ahead, Ohio Democrats voiced optimism about Ryan’s chances in November, saying he would sell voters on his vision for the state’s economic future.
“As Ohio’s next US Senator, Tim will keep working alongside Sherrod Brown to level the playing field and invest in our state so that we can out-compete China and create more opportunities for working families in every corner of our state – a far cry from any of the unaccountable and out of touch millionaires vying for the GOP nomination in this race,” said Elizabeth Walters, chair of the Ohio Democratic party.
Trump announced his endorsement of Vance last month, arguing that he would have the best chance of victory against Ryan. Trump’s endorsement was viewed as somewhat of a gamble in the race, as Vance had previously been trailing in polling behind Mandel and businessman Mike Gibbons.
Vance’s victory now provides another data point in how influential Trump’s endorsement remains among Republican primary voters, underscoring the former president’s firm grip on the party. Several of the primary candidates in Ohio had openly campaigned for Trump’s endorsement, but Vance won him over, partly thanks to his performance in recent debates.
Vance ran his primary campaign as a Trump acolyte, calling for completing the wall along the US-Mexican border and demanding an end to abortion in the US. But just six years ago, Vance was one of the most prominent conservative critics of Trump, denouncing him as “America’s Hitler” and a “moral disaster”.
“He’s the guy that said some bad shit about me,” Trump said of Vance during a rally in Ohio late last month. “If I went by that standard, I don’t think I would have ever endorsed anybody in the country.”
But Vance completely abandoned his past criticism of Trump as he launched his Senate bid last year. Appearing alongside Trump at last month’s rally, Vance praised Trump for having “revealed the corruption in this country like nobody else”. “I wasn’t always nice, but the simple fact is, he’s the best president of my lifetime,” Vance said.
The Republican primary was defined by ugliness and mudslinging, as attack ads flooded Ohio’s airwaves in the run-up to the election, but the last days of the race were also characterized by silliness. Speaking at a rally in Nebraska on Sunday, Trump misidentified Vance as “JD Mandel,” apparently confusing him with one of his opponents. The comment instantly attracted mockery from Democrats and Vance’s competitors.
Despite the jokes made at his expense, Vance laughed off Trump’s slip of the tongue and insisted (correctly as it turned out) that his campaign was on the path to victory.
“I think President Trump gives probably thousands of words of speeches every single week,” he said. “He’s going to misspeak every now and then. But the president’s very much on board.”