Trump-backed candidate J.D. Vance wins crucial GOP Ohio Senate primary

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J.D. Vance won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Ohio on Tuesday, emerging from a crowded field with the help of a late endorsement from former President Trump to win with roughly a third of the total vote.

Six other candidates split the rest of the vote, with state Sen. Matt Dolan — who broke with Trump and repudiated his lies about the 2020 election being illegitimate — jockeying for second place. And former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, an erstwhile moderate who took a sharp turn to the right in an effort to win over Trump voters, was likewise projected to finish behind Vance.

J.D. Vance
J.D. Vance is projected to win the GOP Senate primary in Ohio. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Vance, the author of the bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” and a former venture capitalist, surged to the lead in the GOP primary over the last two weeks, fueled by a Trump endorsement in mid-April. Vance had been stuck in third place prior to receiving Trump’s backing.

The result is a boost for Trump’s political fortunes ahead of several primaries in other states where the former president’s preferred candidate faces long odds. A big question for Trump is how much credit he gets for Vance’s victory in the eyes of Republican politicians, donors and activists.

But Vance benefited just as much from someone else: Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel jump-started Vance’s candidacy and kept it afloat with $13.5 million in funding through a super-PAC.

Josh Mandel
Josh Mandel, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Vance will face Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in the fall election on Nov. 8. Ryan easily won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, but will face an uphill battle in Republican-leaning Ohio.

Mandel and Dolan were the closest competitors to Vance, but for different reasons. Mandel has run for statewide office in Ohio three times, and has lost twice and dropped out once. But he had broad name recognition, a preexisting relationship with conservative grassroots voters and nearly $5 million in campaign funds left over from 2018, when he suspended his last Senate campaign citing family issues.

Mandel was aggressive in both seeking Trump’s endorsement and in repeating the former president’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, despite the thorough debunking of all such claims. Mandel also had robust support from the Club for Growth, a pro-business advocacy group that spent more than $7 million promoting him and running negative ads against his rivals, and the endorsement of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

In the end, it wasn’t enough.

Despite having criticized Trump in searing terms in the past, Vance was able to win the support of the former president. Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was one of Vance’s biggest backers.

Matt Dolan
GOP contender Matt Dolan speaks to reporters after a rally in Columbus, Ohio on Monday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

And Thiel is another influential voice in Trump’s orbit, as is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who frequently hosts Vance on his show.

Dolan, meanwhile, was the only Republican to firmly reject Trump’s 2020 election lies. Dolan said that Trump was “perpetuat[ing] lies about the outcome” and that the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol was “a failure of leadership” by Trump and “an attack on democracy.”

But he did not reject Trump entirely, saying that he agreed with the former president on many policy issues.

Dolan helped his own cause by spending nearly $11 million on his campaign, with $8.5 million of that going to TV ads. His campaign was originally dismissed by many as a vanity project, but a last-minute surge in polling solidified his standing as a serious contender for the Senate nomination.

Despite his vast wealth, Dolan was not even the leader in self-funding. That honor went to businessman Mike Gibbons, who poured $17 million of his own fortune into the race. Gibbons, who engaged in an embarrassing physical confrontation with Mandel at a debate in March, was projected to finish in fourth place.

The Ohio Republican primary saw a torrent of cash from all directions. Former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken also spent more than $4 million of her own money on the race. In all, candidates and interest groups spent around $66 million on this primary alone.

Vance and Ryan will now compete to win Ohio’s open Senate seat, which is being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Democrats are desperate to hold onto the Senate this November, which they currently control only because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.