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Ohio GOP Senate candidates tout MAGA bona fides at debate

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Ohio Republican Senate candidates touted their support for former President Trump during a televised statewide debate on Monday. 

The former president’s potential endorsement has come to define the intraparty contest, which has turned into one of the most closely watched primaries of the election cycle. 

This dynamic was on full display at Monday’s debate, which was hosted by Cleveland’s Nexstar affiliate Fox 8 News when only one of the five candidates on stage, state Sen. Matt Dolan (R) raised their hand when asked if the Republican party should move on from the 2020 election, a reference to Trump’s election fraud claims. 

Dolan’s move is hardly surprising, given his vocal criticism of Trump. However, the other candidates continued to publicly lobby for the former president’s backing. 

“This is another example of show horses, versus the workhorse,” said former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken, referring to the dynamic on stage. “As GOP Chair, I worked with the Trump campaign to recruit and train over 300 poll observers to watch what was happening in the 2020 election.”

Former state treasurer Josh Mandel (R) also openly jockeyed for the former president’s support on stage. 

“I’m doing everything I can do earn his support,” said former state treasurer Josh Mandel before saying that Trump critics like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Oh.) should be “eliminated” from the GOP. 

Other candidates touted their ties to the former president and worked to clarify past comments about him. 

“All of us say stupid things and I happened to say stupid things very publicly,” said author J.D. Vance, when asked about his past criticisms of Trump. “I’ve been very public about the fact that I voted for the president in 2020, that I was wrong about the president back in 2015 [and] 2016, and that he’s been the greatest president of my lifetime.” 

Businessman Mike Gibbons touted his past votes for Trump and work forming a super PAC to support him. When asked about comments from nearly a year ago in which he called himself a Trump supporter, Gibbons said he is “not into the cult of personality.” 

A poll conducted by Fox 8 News found that 62 percent of respondents said an endorsement from Trump would make them more likely to vote for a candidate. 

Monday’s debate followed a contentious primary debate on Friday in Columbus, in which Gibbons and Mandel got into each other’s faces during a heated exchange. Gibbons had accused Mandel, a veteran, of never having worked in the private sector. The incident, which made national headlines, was the first topic addressed on Monday.

Gibbons voiced his respect for those in the armed services before he said his point was that Mandel had never worked in the private sector, which does not include the military.

The latest polling shows Gibbons in the lead among GOP primary voters. An Emerson College-The Hill poll released last week showed him with 22 percent support. Mandel trailed at 15 percent support, while Vance came in at 8 percent. Timken and Dolan each received 6 percent support. Another 39 percent of Republican primary voters said they were undecided.  

Ohio’s primary date is set for May 3, but that date is in question given the state Supreme Court’s move last week to strike down state legislative maps. 

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