Ohio Republicans pick sides as primary battle for U.S. Senate race enters final stretch

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KETTERING, Ohio — Barbara McGlone is supporting Senate candidate Josh Mandel all the way, even if her favorite Republican, Donald Trump, is backing Mandel’s opponent, the conservative commentator J.D. Vance.

“I don't trust J.D. Vance. At all,” McGlone said, sitting in the back of the Victory Christian Church’s break room Thursday, after a campaign stop by Mandel and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. “I know Josh. I voted for him when he became [state] treasurer. And I know all the hoopla they put out about him. I don't believe it. I trust him.”

U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel at the microphone.
U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel at a campaign rally in Brunswick, Ohio, on Thursday. (Dustin Franz/Getty Images)

The former president's endorsement might have swayed her, she said, if he had made it earlier in the Senate race. But with it coming this late in the game, she says she’s skeptical that Trump has made the right choice.

“I think he has a lot of people who just tell him, ‘These people are good, you know, pick one of them,’ instead of him [Trump] going and getting to meet them personally.”

Mandel and Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, hit the usual GOP talking points as they crisscrossed the state on Thursday: Schools are indoctrinating kids, the border is too porous. And Mandel, an erstwhile moderate who has moved steadily rightward in an effort to court both Trump and his supporters, also repeated the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

What they didn’t talk about was Trump’s endorsement of Vance. The former president will headline a rally in the state on Saturday, prompting one Mandel supporter to ask Flynn if he was going to tell Trump to back Mandel instead.

“I already have,” Flynn said, as the audience of about 80 Republicans laughed. Talking with Yahoo News later, Flynn said he thought Trump had been misled by his advisers.

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, smiling, takes the microphone from U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel.
Mandel, right, introduces retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn at Thursday's rally. (Dustin Franz/Getty Images)

“We've talked about a number of endorsements,” Flynn told Yahoo News later Thursday, before taking the stage at Mapleside Farms in Brunswick, Ohio. “I think that I think he's been poorly advised on the other candidates, in particular [Vance].”

Republican voters who showed up to Mandel’s events Thursday largely seemed unmoved by Trump’s endorsement, but some said they didn’t blame him for the selection.

“I gotta say, I'm one of the biggest supporters of President Trump. I worked for him in 2016. And in '20, I’m a huge fan of his. He's done more things right than any president in our history,” said Shannon Burns, president of the Strongsville Republican Party. “But he can't do everything right. And unfortunately, I think he made the wrong choice with this one.”

With little more than a week left until the primary election, the race seems to have narrowed to a showdown between Mandel and Vance.

Vance also spent the week crossing the state ahead of his rally Saturday with Trump. He campaigned with Donald Trump Jr., who has become the central figure in the former president’s post-White House political operation.

U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance, holding a plastic cup of water, speaks with a poster showing his name in the background.
U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance speaks with prospective voters in Troy, Ohio, on April 11. (Gaelen Morse/Getty Images)

Mandel, who is making his third bid for Senate after a pair of failed runs in 2012 and 2018, told Yahoo News he’s optimistic that his supporters are energized and will show up to the polls.

“We are off the charts here as far as energy and grassroots enthusiasm,” he said Thursday night. “The phones are ringing off the hook with people who want to help us. And they're more motivated than ever. And so I think these final 12 days of the campaign, you know, we're going to set some records.”