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Meeting between Trump, Ohio Senate candidates turns tense: report

A meeting former President TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE held with four hopefuls vying for Ohio’s open Senate seat during a fundraiser at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday night soon turned tense, according to Politico

Trump was holding the fundraiser to benefit Max Miller, a candidate he’s supporting in an upcoming Ohio House race in the hopes of ousting a sitting Republican who backed his impeachment. 

But he reportedly took the opportunity to convene a group of candidates looking to fill the seat that will be left vacant by Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanCarper urges Biden to nominate ambassadors amid influx at border Fudge violated the Hatch Act, watchdog finds House conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill MORE (R), who is not seeking reelection in 2022. 

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Before the dinner kicked off, according to Politico, Trump met in a backroom with former state Treasurer Josh Mandel; former state GOP Chair Jane Timken; tech executive Bernie Moreno; and investment banker Mike Gibbons to discuss the Senate race.

Mandel and Timken have already announced their bids for the seat, while Moreno and Gibbons are expected to jump in soon.

The meeting, which reportedly lasted 15 minutes, was described to Politico by one source as being like the “Hunger Games,” and a surprise, awkward confrontation for the Senate hopefuls.

According to sources cited by Politico, the huddle covered everything from the candidates’ support of Trump and opposition to his impeachment, previous endorsements and donations, and early polling in the race. 

During the meeting, Trump noted that Timken at one point defended Rep. Anthony GonzalezAnthony GonzalezCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote Ohio GOP censures Republican lawmaker over Trump MORE (Ohio), the Republican who supported the former president’s impeachment, according to Politico.

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A consultant affiliated with one of the campaigns told The Hill that most of the back and forth during the meeting was between Timken and Mandel. The Hill has reached out to representatives for both candidates. 

A separate source close to one of the candidates told The Hill that Trump asked Mandel why he abandoned his planned 2018 campaign against Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Democrats offer bill to scrap tax break for investment managers Wyden: Funding infrastructure with gas tax hike a 'big mistake' Sherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask MORE (D-Ohio). Mandel dropped out in January of that year, citing a need to spend more time with his family.

Trump mentioned Timken in his subsequent speech backing Max Miller, the only Senate candidate who got a mention.

Trump has not yet formally endorsed any candidate in the Senate race, though the reported meeting reflects how valuable his endorsement is for ambitious Republicans looking to win seats in Congress.

One potential candidate not present at the meeting was Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversThe Hill's Morning Report - Census winners and losers; House GOP huddles Ohio sets special election to replace retiring Rep. Steve Stivers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP draws line on taxes; nation braces for Chauvin verdict MORE (R-Ohio), who responded to Politico’s article by retweeting it along with a gif of talk show host Stephen ColbertStephen Tyrone ColbertWarren says Republican Party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' Jeff Bezos roasted for buying yacht so big it comes with smaller support yacht Michelle Obama describes Barack's favorite movies: 'Everybody is sad, then they die' MORE sitting back and eating popcorn.

Reid Wilson contributed reporting.

Updated: 8:31 p.m.