J.D. Vance lands Donald Trump endorsement in crowded Ohio GOP Senate primary
WASHINGTON – After a day of push and pull, former President Donald Trump on Friday endorsed writer and venture capitalist J.D. Vance in a Republican Senate primary in Ohio, despite objections from other GOP members that Vance is a turncoat who could lose the fall election.
"Like some others, J.D. Vance may have said some not so great things about me in the past, but he gets it now, and I have seen that in spades," Trump said in a statement endorsing Vance. "He is our best chance for victory in what could be a very tough race."
The winner of the Ohio Republican primary on May 3 will likely face U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, in the fall.
Trump made his choice even though numerous Ohio Republicans publicly urged him not to support Vance, citing his low poll numbers and the fact that he opposed Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.
After the 2016 publication of his book "Hillbilly Elegy," a memoir about the problems in the Appalachian area where he grew up, Vance described Trump as "cultural heroin" and a demagogue who was leading "the white working class to a very dark place.”
Vance later became a fan of Trump and said Friday he is "incredibly honored" to have the ex-president's endorsement.
Predicting Trump would reclaim the presidency in 2024, Vance said on Twitter that "he was an incredible fighter for hard working Americans in the White House, he will be again, and I'll fight for the America First Agenda in the Senate."
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Trump's announcement capped more than 24 hours of uncertainty surrounding his Ohio intentions.
After hearing that Trump was planning to endorse Vance, dozens of Ohio Republican officials put together a letter urging Trump not to take such a step. They and others referenced Vance's low standing in pre-election polls and past attacks on Trump and his supporters.
“While we were working hard in Ohio to support you and Make America Great Again, JD Vance was actively working against your candidacy," the letter said.
The crowded Ohio Senate primary features five Republicans who are bunched within 15 percentage points of each other, according to an average of polls compiled by the RealClearPolitics website.
Vance's opponents include three prominent party members who also sought Trump's support: Josh Mandel, former legislator and state treasurer; Mike Gibbons, a businessman; and Jane Timken, former state GOP party chair. The fifth candidate, businessman Matt Dolan, is running as an anti-Trump candidate.
As Trump announced his endorsement, Vance placed third in the RealClearPolitics averaging of recent polls at 14%, trailing Mandel (21%) and Gibbons (19.3%).
The endorsement sets up an interesting test of Trump's influence: Vance has not led any major polls in the Ohio race.
The impact of a Trump endorsement will be felt soon. His candidates are competing in a series of Republican primaries to be held in May, including such pivotal states as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia, as well as Ohio.
Trump alluded to the fracas over his Ohio endorsement in his written statement, saying this was not an easy selection to make "because I like and respect some of the other candidates in the race."
Saying he studied the race "closely," Trump said he believes Vance would be the best debater among the GOP candidates, while supporting his positions on issues like immigration, policing, trade, and China.
"Unlike so many other pretenders and wannabes," Trump said of Vance, "he will put America First."