J.D. Vance, the venture capitalist and "Hillbilly Elegy" author, emerged from a well-funded field of Republicans vying to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman.
It was the marquee contest of primaries in Ohio and Indiana on Tuesday in which incumbents and establishment-backed figures otherwise largely prevailed. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine easily bested Republicans who had criticized his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, while Democratic Rep. Shontel Brown cruised to victory in her Cleveland-area congressional district in a rematch against progressive Nina Turner.
Here are key takeaways from Tuesday's primaries:
Trump is still the GOP's primary mover: Vance was languishing in the polls and written off by several of his rivals — until Trump stepped into the race. With his mid-April endorsement, the former President delivered Vance what nearly everyone else in the race had coveted and built their campaign around trying to secure.
The shift was immediate. At Vance's campaign stops, some attendees said they were persuaded by Trump. At his rivals' events, voters said they had planned to vote for someone else — but Trump's endorsement had given them pause.
Vance's victory underscored the former President's role as the kingmaker in the Republican Party. Though it's not clear whether Trump will succeed in his effort to oust incumbent Republicans he believes have wronged him, Ohio's results demonstrated that in open-seat races, his endorsement might be the most important factor.
The political press, Vance said at his victory party Tuesday night, "wanted to write a story that this campaign would be the death of Donald Trump's 'America First' agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, it ain't the death of the 'America First' agenda."
How Vance did it: Vance tapped into an anti-establishment message, taking constant aim at China and slamming Democrats over border security problems that he blamed for Ohio's opioid crisis. He also copped to his biggest liability in the primary, telling Republican crowds bluntly that his past criticism of Trump had been wrong.
It didn't hurt that the Republican primary was a months-long demolition derby. At an early debate, former state treasurer Josh Mandel and businessman Mike Gibbons — who at the time were jockeying for first place in the polls — nearly fist-fought. No one consistently topped 30% in the polls, and a huge portion of the primary electorate was undecided.
Vance's ready-for-television personality and ease at the microphone were obvious. He had the backing of billionaire tech mogul Peter Thiel, who pumped millions of dollars into a television advertising campaign to boost Vance. And he had already won over Trump's GOP acolytes — he campaigned with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Donald Trump Jr.
But all of that wasn't enough to overcome his previous critiques of the former President — until Trump himself endorsed Vance and said at a rally in Delaware County last month that he didn't mind that Vance had once "said some bad sh*t about me."
"I want to pick somebody that's going to win, and this man is going to win," Trump said at the rally.
Ryan and Whaley look to turn things around for Dems in Ohio: Rep. Tim Ryan did what was expected on Tuesday — he won the state's Democratic Senate primary. Now comes the hard part.
The longtime congressman from Youngstown is the Democratic Party's last and best hope in Ohio, but his odds of winning in November are long. The state that has shifted away from the party over the last dozen years: Other than Sen. Sherrod Brown, no Democrat has won a nonjudicial statewide office in the Buckeye State since 2008, and former President Donald Trump carried the state twice. And this midterm year, Democrats face both historical and economic headwinds.
Ryan looked to address these odds on Tuesday, urging his supporters to stop "looking at each other and seeing a Democrat or seeing a Republican" and to be open to "heal," to "come together" and to "forgive each other" for decisions that others may have made. It's a message aimed squarely at winning back voters who may have left the Democratic Party and voted for Trump.
Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton who won the Democratic primary for governor on Tuesday, did the same in her victory speech, specifically reaching out to voters who backed Republicans in the past.
"Ohio isn't a red state or blue state," Whaley said. "It's a frustrated state that has been ignored by politicians from both parties for too long."
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