Billionaire Peter Thiel gives $10 million to super PAC backing potential JD Vance Senate bid in Ohio

Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder, donated $10 million to a super PAC seeking to recruit author J.D. Vance to run for the Republican Senate nomination in Ohio. 

The super PAC Protect Ohio Values, which describes itself as a “network of grassroots conservatives” encouraging Vance’s candidacy, also received a “significant” donation from the conservative mega-donor Mercer family, Bryan Lanza, a communications adviser to the PAC, told The Hill, though did not say how much the Mercer’s donation was worth. 

Thiel's contribution was first reported on Monday by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

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Vance is a venture capitalist and author, who rose to prominence for his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy that has since been made into a Netflix film of the same name. He grew up in Middletown, Ohio, and now lives in Cincinnati. 

Vance previously considered challenging Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownDemocrats see good chance of Garland prosecuting Trump On the Money — Student borrowers stare down rising prices Biden selects Sarah Bloom Raskin, two others for Fed board MORE (D-Ohio) in 2018, though he ultimately declined. That hasn’t stopped efforts to recruit him into the state’s 2022 Senate race.

The seat’s current occupant, Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBiden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support MORE (R-Ohio), announced earlier this year that he will not run for reelection in 2022, setting off a scramble to replace him. The Republican primary field is expected to be crowded, and some high-profile candidates have already jumped in, including former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken. 

Mike Gibbons, an Ohio businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Senate nomination in 2018, is also believed to be nearing a campaign announcement. On Monday, he began a listening tour with voters in the state in a sign that a formal launch could be coming soon. 

There are also a handful of Democrats who are seen as potential contenders for Portman’s Senate seat, including Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanJD Vance raises more than million in second fundraising quarter for Ohio Senate bid Republicans must join us to give Capitol Police funding certainty  On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood MORE (D-Ohio), who is believed to be nearing a campaign announcement. Others include former Ohio Health Department Director Amy Acton, former state Treasurer Kevin Boyce and Ohio state House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes. 

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The Senate race in Ohio is expected to be one of the closest-watched contests of the 2022 midterm election cycle. The state has drifted to the right in recent years, handing two victories to former President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE in 2016 and 2020 and dealing a series of setbacks to Democrats in statewide races. Brown, who was elected to a third term in 2018, is the only statewide elected Democrat.

But Portman’s retirement has given Democrats some hope of competing in Ohio next year, with party strategists believing that Brown’s 2018 win can offer a blueprint for Democrats in upcoming statewide elections. 

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, currently puts the 2022 Ohio Senate race in its “Lean” Republican column, meaning that the GOP currently holds an advantage but could find itself in competitive territory.