Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for Senate in Ohio are training their sites on J.D. Vance as the conservative populist makes inroads with GOP primary voters.
In the latest salvo, businessman Mike Gibbons is unleashing a $500,000 statewide advertising buy that recalls Vance’s initial opposition to former President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign and accuses him of being a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only). Gibbons is pledging to spend $10 million of his personal fortune on television and other advertising through Ohio’s May 3 primary election, and for now, Vance is his main target.
“Who’s cheering for the wrong team? J.D. Vance. Vance called President Trump an ‘idiot’ and ‘reprehensible,’” says the voice-over in a 30-second television spot unveiled by the Gibbons campaign on Wednesday and first shared with the Washington Examiner. From there, the ad moves to an old clip of Vance criticizing Trump.
“I’m a Never Trump guy. I never liked him,” Vance says. “I might have to hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton.” Next, the ad shifts to Gibbons talking straight to the camera: “J.D. Vance is not on our team,” he says.
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“Ohioans are tired of RINOs who are willing to say anything to get elected,” Gibbons campaign spokeswoman Samantha Cotton said. Gibbons, a wealthy businessman with a range of financial interests, ran for Senate in 2018 but lost in the Republican primary to then-Rep. Jim Renacci, who in 2022 is challenging Gov. Mike DeWine for the GOP nomination.
The Vance campaign said Gibbons's attack is proof that the first-time candidate is on the rise.
“When everybody from the left-wing media to failed Senate candidates and their D.C. establishment allies are spending millions attacking J.D., it means only one thing: J.D. is winning,” said Vance campaign spokesman Taylor Van Kirk.
Vance, the author of the bestselling memoir Hillbilly Elegy and a venture capitalist by trade, began the 2016 election cycle a sharp Trump critic but later emerged as a staunch supporter of the former president. As Vance’s prospects have risen in the crowded Ohio Senate primary, more of his competitors have begun taking aim at his candidacy, with a primary charge being that he is a faux Trump supporter.
Vance denies claims that his change of heart surrounding Trump is phony and part of a naked attempt to win higher office, saying his mind changed as he watched the former president govern and realized what he meant to people like those he grew up with in rural Ohio.
Although Trump is often suspicious of converts such as Vance, it is probably a major boost to his Senate campaign that so many close supporters of the former president are backing his bid.
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Venture capitalist and GOP megadonor Peter Thiel, a major financier of Trump’s political efforts, is funding a super PAC supporting Vance with several million dollars of his own money. Meanwhile, a host of conservative activists who are big Trump backers are backing Vance’s campaign.
Republican Sen. Rob Portman is retiring. Republicans running to succeed him include Gibbons; Vance; former state Treasurer Josh Mandel; state Sen. Matt Dolan, a part-owner of the Cleveland Guardians, the renamed Major League Baseball team; businessman Bernie Moreno; former Ohio GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken, and a few others. Trump has not endorsed anyone in this race.