J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate who is backed by Donald Trump, won his Ohio primary on Tuesday, Edison Research and NBC News projected, in an early test of the former president’s sway over his party as he eyes a possible White House run in 2024.
Trump upended the Ohio race last month by endorsing author and venture capitalist Vance ahead of the Nov. 8 congressional elections, catapulting him ahead of former state Treasurer Josh Mandel.
With about 59% of expected ballots counted, Vance led the Republican field with 31% of the vote, followed by Mandel with 24% and state lawmaker Matt Dolan with 22%, according to Edison Research.
Vance will face Democratic U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, who won his Senate primary as had been expected. Ryan, who ran a brief presidential campaign in 2020, has focused his campaign on working-class voters, which has included taking a hardline on China and courting Trump supporters.
“I want us to be the manufacturing powerhouse of the world. I want us to help this country leapfrog China,” Ryan told a gathering of supporters after sealing the nomination. “We can do it by coming together.”
Trump has not announced his plans for 2024, but he regularly hints at his political rallies that he intends to mount another presidential campaign.
Polls had shown a tight Republican race since Trump’s endorsement, with Vance holding a narrow lead over Dolan and Mandel in the race to take the seat of retiring Senator Rob Portman.
At a party for Vance supporters in Cincinnati, Keith Andrews said he was confident in his choice.
“I love the guy, he’s humble yet brilliant at the same time,” Andrews, 52, said. “I went to one of J.D.’s town halls and he nailed it. I mean, everything he said was right on.”
Another Trump supporter, Thomas Cheesman, however, said he voted for Dolan despite Trump’s endorsement of Vance.
“I had somebody else in mind before that, and I stuck with that choice,” he said. “He didn’t sway me.”
Nonpartisan election analysts favor Republicans’ chances of winning the final matchup.
A rematch between two Democratic rivals for a U.S. House seat is also on the ballot in Ohio on Tuesday, while voters in Indiana also cast primary ballots.
Tuesday’s contests kicked off a series of critical nominating contests in the coming weeks, including primaries in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
Trump has endorsed more than 150 candidates this year, including about a dozen key picks.
His involvement will help determine whether Republicans, as expected, reverse their slim deficit in the House and also possibly take control of the Senate, which is split 50-50 with Democrats owning the tie-breaking vote.
A loss of control of either chamber would allow Republicans to block Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda and also to launch potentially politically damaging investigations.
Not all party members are falling in line behind Trump’s lead. As in Ohio, Trump-backed candidates for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania and North Carolina face well-funded Republican challengers.
Some worry that Trump’s picks, like former football star Herschel Walker in Georgia, could prove too controversial to prevail against Democrats in November, imperiling their bid for Senate control.
Vance, a former Trump critic, was not the choice of many party leaders in Ohio, and some have grumbled publicly about Trump’s decision. The Club for Growth, a powerful conservative advocacy group, broadcast ads bashing Vance and stuck by its pick in the race, the unabashedly pro-Trump Mandel.
The Democratic primary between progressive candidate Nina Turner and incumbent Shontel Brown for the congressional district which includes Cleveland will be closely watched as a measure of the power balance between the establishment and more liberal wings of the party.
In the Republican primary for governor, incumbent Mike DeWine held off challenges by three far-right Republican challengers who are splitting the anti-DeWine vote. Trump did not endorse anyone in the race.
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