Five takeaways from the Ohio primaries
Voters headed to the polls on Tuesday for primaries in Indiana and Ohio, with the latter seen as a major testing ground for former President Trump’s political power ahead of the November midterms.
Among a crowded field of candidates in the Buckeye State’s Republican Senate primary, Trump chose to back venture capitalist and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance. Polls leading up to the primary saw Vance’s support rising, but also suggested a possible late surge from rival Matt Dolan, who has been critical of the former president. At the same time, the Club for Growth angered Trump and his allies by backing Josh Mandel.
GOP fissures were apparent in another high-profile race in Ohio, as Gov. Mike DeWine sought to beat back populist challengers critical of his coronavirus response. Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Rep. Shontel Brown faced a rematch against progressive Nina Turner in a race seen as a bellwether of the left’s power within the party.
Here are five takeaways from the first major primary night of the season.
Trump has a good night
Former President Trump scored key victories on Tuesday, pulling Vance in the Senate GOP primary over the finish line and seeing a former aide clinch the nomination in a House race.
Trump was largely credited with providing a late jolt to Vance’s campaign. The author’s late surge and ultimate win in a crowded primary field underscores the former president’s lingering power over the GOP grassroots.
Beyond Vance’s victory, Trump’s influence was put in stark relief by the campaigns run by many of the other candidates.
Former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, businessman Mike GIbbons and former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken all styled themselves as Trump acolytes, showing how embracing the former president is still seen as politically necessary.
State Sen. Matt Dolan, the only candidate not to bend the knee to Trump, came in third place, trailing Vance by over 9 points and earning about 23 percent of the vote.
Lower down on the ballot, Max Miller, a former aide in the Trump administration, won the GOP primary for Ohio’s 7th Congressional District on Tuesday against three other Republicans.
Miller’s campaign got an early boost with an endorsement from Trump, and the former president’s backing is largely credited with setting Miller apart in the crowded field.
Primary exposes some signs of GOP divisions
While Dolan did not come out on top in the primary, his performance defied expectations.
Most polls leading up to the primary showed Dolan trailing Mandel, Vance and Gibbons, but early results from The Associated Press showed Dolan coming in third behind Vance and Mandel — notable, since Dolan has criticized Trump in the past and refused to embrace him during his campaign.
Dolan’s performance can largely be attributed to his performance in the Cleveland and Columbus areas. In the Cleveland area, Dolan carried 33 percent of the vote in Cuyahoga County, while Vance trailed at 25 percent. In nearby Geagua County, where Dolan lives, the state senator racked up 41 percent of the vote. Vance, on the other hand, trailed at 25 percent.
Dolan also performed well in the Columbus area, leading Vance by 10 points in Franklin County and narrowly leading him by less than a point in Licking County. However, Vance led Dolan in the greater Cincinnati region, which is not far from where he grew up.
Still, Dolan’s performance in some of the state’s biggest population centers points to an ongoing challenge for Trump in urban and suburban areas.
Tuesday’s primary also follows months of infighting and competition among Republicans, most for the sake of Trump’s backing. And Democrats are already taking advantage of those divisions. The Democratic Senate Majority PAC highlights what it called the “nasty, divisive GOP primary” in a statement on Tuesday.
At the same time, all four former GOP Senate candidates were quick to concede to Vance and called for unity ahead of the general election.
General election messaging takes shape
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who handily won the Democratic nomination Tuesday, was quick to preview his general election message, which appears to center around an appeal to working class voters.
Shortly after Vance’s nomination was announced, Ryan’s campaign blasted out an ad touting him as the true blue collar champion — a speed indicating that his argument was crafted in advance and ready to go as soon as the primaries were over.
“JD Vance left Ohio for San Francisco to make millions and invest in companies that profit from globalization and free trade. He became a celebrity, CNN analyst and a big hit at Washington cocktail parties,” Ryan said, knocking Vance’s past career as a venture capitalist. “Now Vance says he feels out of place in Ohio, and he wants to represent you in the Senate? What a joke.”
Ryan, who represents a working-class district in the House, has spent years cultivating an image as a blue-collar champion, and the ad indicates that portrayal will be a cornerstone of his general election bid.
The tactic makes sense in Ohio, an erstwhile swing state packed with white voters without college degrees who historically voted Democrat. But those voters largely abandoned the party in recent years to vote en masse for Trump — and winning them back is key to any hope Ryan will have in November.
Vance, in his own victory speech, spoke on similar themes and directly appealed to that same swath of voters.
“Now the party that we need to unify to fight Tim Ryan, it’s our Republican Party, ladies and gentlemen, it is the party of working people all across the state of Ohio, and it needs to fight and it needs to win,” he said.
Incumbents hold on
Incumbents had a good night Tuesday as well, with no major office holder getting ousted in a primary.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) fended off a small handful of populist challengers by a wide margin, a victory after he faced grassroots pushback over early coronavirus restrictions.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose also beat back his nearest primary challenger by 30 points.
Still, those races also underscored how much the GOP has moved in Trump’s direction.
DeWine, who Trump had criticized, failed to get 50 percent of the vote, and two populist challengers combined got roughly half of primary voters’ support — indicating that DeWine was aided heavily by a crowded field.
LaRose, who oversees Ohio’s elections, previously said in November 2020 that it was “irresponsible when Republicans say an election was stolen and don’t have evidence.” However, in order to put his primary race away and get Trump’s backing, he pivoted to say in February that the former president “is right to say voter fraud is a serious problem.”
In Indiana, meanwhile, Sen. Todd Young won the GOP primary unopposed. Young has been cool on Trump, going so far as to say that he bore responsibility for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Still, his running unopposed and not drawing a Trump-aligned challenger marks an exception in this year’s midterm cycle.
Progressives fail to deliver
Progressive candidates running in Ohio’s Democratic primaries on Tuesday were easily defeated by their establishment opponents.
In the Democratic Senate primary, progressive Morgan Harper won just 17 percent of the vote, while Ryan won with 70 percent. Ryan consistently led Harper in the polls going into the primary and was widely perceived as the race’s frontrunner.
Meanwhile, in the state’s 11th district primary, incumbent Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) defeated former state Sen. Nina Turner by roughly 30 percent. The loss comes less than a year after Brown defeated Turner during their first race against each other in the Democratic primary to replace former Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio). Fudge retired to become Biden’s Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Ryan and Brown boasted establishment support from inside and outside of Ohio including Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) and Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio). Brown also won the endorsement of Biden going into Tuesday’s primary.
The victories, especially Brown’s, cement the candidates’ ability to unify both wings of the Democratic Party at a time when the progressive and establishment flanks have been rattled by divisions.
The wins also raise questions for progressives going forward this cycle after endorsing a series of losses last year.
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