- The Washington Times - Friday, April 29, 2022

Former President Donald Trump’s influence over the Republican Party will be put to the test on Tuesday in Ohio’s Senate primary election, 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,” was stalled in polls behind former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who held a firm lead among all seven Republican candidates and won several high-profile endorsements.

Mr. Vance’s political future brightened considerably in April when Mr. Trump announced he would back Mr. Vance’s Senate bid. The former president maintains considerable Republican support in Ohio after winning the state by about 8 percentage points in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Two polls, one conducted by Fox News and another by a Vance political action committee, show the former president’s endorsement appears to be helping.

The Fox News poll found Mr. Vance in the lead for the first time in his campaign, winning 23% of primary voters, compared with 18% who backed Mr. Mandel.

Mr. Vance’s rating has doubled from a poll taken in March, before Mr. Trump’s endorsement, which showed him receiving the support of 11% of Republican voters.

Mr. Trump’s endorsement also may be increasing enthusiasm among those who support Mr. Vance, according to the poll.

In March, 48% of Vance supporters said they were extremely interested in the Senate race. That number climbed to 57% after Mr. Trump’s endorsement. Among Republican voters, 42% said Mr. Trump’s endorsement made them “more supportive” of Mr. Vance.

A poll released last 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 increased 13 points after Mr. Trump made the announcement.

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 Republican candidates poll around 1% apiece.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, has endorsed Mr. Gibbons. 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.”

A Vance victory Tuesday could further solidify Mr. Trump’s influence over the party as he considers another bid for the White House in 2024.

Mr. Trump’s effort to boost some other Republican candidates has yielded mixed results.

The former president’s endorsement is falling flat in the Georgia governor’s race, where incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has maintained a steady and significant lead over former Sen. David Perdue ahead of a May 24 primary.

In Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump’s April 10 endorsement of Mehmet Oz in the Republican Senate primary appears to have boosted the celebrity physician in the eyes of voters.

Mr. Oz was slightly leading all other Republican candidates in a Trafalgar Group poll taken immediately after Mr. Trump’s endorsement. A Monmouth University Poll released last 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 Pennsylvania and Ohio have given the two candidates “badly needed jolts,” showing that the former president’s support may be most influential in a multicandidate field “where an additional 5 to 7 points can move a third- or second-place candidate to first place.”

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 is conservative or populist enough to deserve his backing.

Mr. Vance once compared Mr. Trump to Hitler and called him an “idiot” and “reprehensible” in now-deleted tweets.

Mr. Trump’s endorsement of Mr. Vance stunned top conservatives and his own supporters, 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 and by 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 acknowledging that 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 David McIntosh, whom he 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 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.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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