The MAGA vote dominated the Ohio Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, but J.D. Vance grabbed the most and prevailed. He will now face Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) in November to see who wins the seat vacated by the retirement of Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
Vance's win comes on the heels of a late Trump endorsement, and it looks like it may have been what Vance needed to get past former Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel.
The voting broke down as follows:
J.D. Vance: 32.2%
Josh Mandel: 23.9%
Matt Dolan: 23.3%
Mike Gibbons: 11.7%
Jane Timken: 5.9%
Also-rans include Mark Pukita (2.1%) and Neil Patel (0.9%).
Vance has re-cast himself as a Trump acolyte and populist who rails against the "elite" and gives red meat to voters by advocating the break-up of Big Tech companies. This is a far cry from the attitude of the Hillbilly Elegy author in 2016. At that time, Vance lived in San Francisco, worked at Peter Thiel's venture capital firm, and was a Trump critic. He once tweeted (now deleted), "In 4 years, I hope people remember that it was those of us who empathized with Trump's voters who fought him most aggressively."
Still, it isn't easy to understate the impact of Trump's endorsement in this race. Before April 15, Vance typically languished in the polls behind Mandel and businessman Gibbons. Vance led in all three polls following Trump's endorsement and bested Mandel by 8 points in the final tally.
The two biggest surprises were the final result for Dolan and Gibbons. Dolan, a fixture in the Ohio statehouse since 2010, received hardly any news coverage, and Portman had offered his endorsement to Timken. He finished just behind Mandel, but it also shows the power of the Trump-friendly vote in Ohio. Dolan and Timken represented the "establishment" portion of the Republican Party in Ohio. Both Vance and Mandel practically pined for Trump's nod of approval. Gibbons represented the Trump-supporting wing that didn't go all-in on Trumpism. Combined, that faction received close to 68% of the primary vote.
Some observers now think that Ryan has an easy path to a win, but that's not necessarily the case. Trump won Ohio by 8 points in 2016 and 2018. It is no longer the swing state it was from 2004 to 2012. Ryan understands this, which is why in one of his first ads, he admonished the far-left wing of the Democratic Party for its positions on China and defunding the police. Ryan appeared to embrace some of the populism that gets high marks in Ohio by filming the ad at a bar featuring Ryan playing darts.
If he expects to win, Ryan will have to overcome Biden's poor approval ratings. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, Biden is down 19 net approval points in the Buckeye state and could foreshadow a tough race for Ryan, even against Vance, who seems to be more comfortable making outrageous statements almost entirely for the shock factor.
It is possible the leaked Supreme Court opinion on Roe v. Wade could help Ryan, especially if he can use that to keep Vance from talking about dinner-table issues such as inflation, gas prices, and grocery store prices. Ryan, however, may have already dented his "moderate" image by saying there shouldn't be any restrictions on abortion at any time.
The question remains over what path Ryan will take in a general election. If he chooses to attack Vance over Trump and tie him to supporters such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, it could backfire just as it did for Terry McAuliffe in Virginia. But, on the other hand, if he sticks to the issues, Vance spends most of the time talking about President Joe Biden and his record since taking over in 2021.
Despite the rough and tumble of the primary season, the general election is Vance's to lose.