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Ohio Republican primary tests Trumpism’s grip on party

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Republicans in Ohio will vote on Tuesday for their candidate for the US Senate later this year, in a closely fought race that is being seen as a test of former US president Donald Trump’s continuing grip on the party.

JD Vance, the author and venture capitalist who has been backed by Trump, held a narrow lead heading into election day. On Monday the Real Clear Politics polling average showed Vance narrowly in front on 26 per cent, the former state treasurer Josh Mandel on 22.5 per cent, Matt Dolan on 21.5 per cent, and Mike Gibbons on 15 per cent.

Polls show that these four candidates, out of a total of seven, have a realistic chance of winning the Ohio primary, which will determine who goes on to join the race to be the state’s junior senator later this year.

The contest was blown open last year when Rob Portman, the incumbent Republican senator, announced he would not seek re-election.

If Vance wins, experts predict it will be seen as a sign of the former president’s continuing hold over the party and its voters, especially given that Vance was lagging in the polls until the endorsement. But if he loses, Trump’s opponents are likely to seize on it as evidence that the former president is no longer a sure-fire kingmaker.

Jessica Taylor, an analyst at the Cook Political Report, said: “This is the first major race where Trump’s endorsement is on the line. He made a risky pick with JD Vance, and this is a test of whether his endorsement alone can turn a race.”

Vance, who criticised Trump in 2016 as an “idiot” and privately compared him to Adolf Hitler, spent the final days of the election campaign emphasising his credentials as the former president’s choice.

He appeared on the campaign trail alongside two of Trump’s most prominent and controversial supporters in Congress: Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has previously promoted conspiracy theories, and Matt Gaetz, who is being investigated for possible underage sex-trafficking.

Despite this, Trump’s support has occasionally appeared to waver. Last weekend the former president got Vance’s name wrong during a rally speech, telling supporters: “We’ve endorsed — JP, right? JD Mandel, and he’s doing great.” 

However, Mandel has been doing his best to claim the mantle as Trump’s natural political heir, telling Fox News on Monday: “There is no one that’s led on the America First policies in Ohio like I have.”

Dolan, conversely, appears to have benefited from being the one Republican in the race to distance himself from the former president, having soared from 6 per cent three weeks ago to being one of the favourites. Dolan, a state senator, has refused to support Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him and, in return, Trump has said Dolan was the one candidate he could not back.

“Even if Trump’s candidate loses, almost all of them have been twisting themselves to try and get closest to him,” said Taylor. “The only one who hasn’t, and whose victory would be a major blow for Trump, has been Dolan.”

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