Former President Trump’s role as a kingmaker in the Republican Party was solidified in Ohio and Indiana when all 22 candidates he endorsed came out on top this week in the GOP primaries.
His winning streak is in jeopardy later this month, though, when Pennsylvania and Georgia hold primaries that so far show some of Mr. Trump’s highest-profile picks fighting for their survival.
Pollsters in the two states on Wednesday said Mr. Trump’s wins in Ohio and Indiana don’t guarantee future victories, but they clearly show the former president still holds considerable sway over Republicans 16 months after leaving office.
“Those wins show Trump is a lot stronger than people think,” Georgia pollster Matt Towery told The Washington Times. “He’s a very savvy guy when it comes to politics, and he just proved it. I mean, he rolled Ohio.”
The next big test of Mr. Trump will come May 17, when his pick for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, faces off in the GOP primary against investment consultant David McCormick, a staunch, pro-Trump conservative.
Mr. Trump endorsed a broad group of candidates who ran statewide in Ohio and Indiana, including 17 congressional candidates as well as candidates for treasurer, auditor and attorney general in the Buckeye State.
Most of his endorsements were either incumbents or unopposed, but all his picks in competitive races also prevailed.
In Ohio, Mr. Trump‘s April 15 endorsement of Republican J.D. Vance catapulted the candidate to victory. Mr. Vance had been stalled in the middle of a pack of six candidates but jumped into the lead after Mr. Trump endorsed him.
Mr. Vance won Tuesday by 9 points.
Mr. Trump’s endorsement has been less powerful for GOP candidates in Pennsylvania and Georgia
Mr. Oz hasn’t been able to climb much in the polls despite an April 10 endorsement from the former president. New statewide polling set for release on May 5 shows him stuck in a statistical tie with Mr. McCormick. The race is considered a toss-up.
Berwood Yost, director of Pennsylvania’s Franklin and Marshall College Poll, said Mr. Trump’s endorsement will help Mr. Oz, but perhaps not enough to counter concerns among many voters that the former television host is not conservative enough.
Pennsylvania primary voters, Mr. Yost said, “are more likely to be conservative, and rural.”
Mr. McCormick, whose patriotic and pro-America ads all but suggest he was the actual Trump endorsee, is considered to be more conservative than Mr. Oz, who in past statements has supported the right to abortion and gun ownership restrictions.
The race will pit the former president’s enduring popularity in Pennsylvania, where 40% of GOP voters identify as part of the “Trump faction,” against a truly conservative primary electorate who may not trust Mr. Oz’s politics.
“Trump is still important in this state for a Republican primary,” Mr. Yost said. “There’s no doubt about it. But but there are concerns among Pennsylvania Republicans about Dr. Oz. And those two things have kind of collided.”
Mr. Trump’s top pick in Georgia faces a steeper climb.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue will challenge incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s bid for a second term in Georgia’s May 24 primary.
Unlike Pennsylvania, where the outcome is unclear, pollsters are more confident about how the race would turn out if held today: Mr. Perdue would lose.
Polls show Mr. Perdue double digits behind Mr. Kemp, who is a popular incumbent and conservative.
Mr. Towery, the Georgia pollster, blamed the Perdue campaign. He said it did not do enough to promote Mr. Trump’s support, which would have resonated with GOP primary voters.
Turnout in early Georgia voting, which began Monday, has not been robust so far, Mr. Towery said, and he believes the polls may be overstating Mr. Kemp’s lead. The winner in the race will be the candidate supported by the state’s most motivated primary voters.
Mr. Trump’s wins in Ohio and Indiana show his endorsement is likely to help Mr. Perdue, he said.
“If you ask me who is going to win right now if the vote were held today, probably Kemp, but not by the margins people think,” Mr. Towery said. “If you ask me who it’s going to be three weeks from now, I have no earthly idea.”