Ohio Republicans are embracing the bombing ahead of Senate primary elections

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Republicans running for the seat of Ohio’s outgoing senator, Rob Portman, appear determined to bury the soft country club bonhomie that was once a hallmark of the party in that state and replace it with the pugilistic mark of conservatism. owned by Donald J. Trump and now reinforced by the new band of Buckeye bombers.

The race fell to a brutal slug party as the leading candidates, the author who became venture capitalist JD Vance, the former treasurer Josh Mandel and a self-funded businessman, Mike Gibbons, went into the final weekend before Tuesday’s primary election, accusing each other of being inadequately right-wing. or disloyal to the man in Mar-a-Lago.

Ohio used to be known for the quiet conservatism of the state’s famous former senator George Voinovich and its current governor, Mike DeWine; for former house speaker John A. Boehner’s Merlot-happy happy warrior days; for moderation by John Kasich, a two-term governor; and for Mr. Portman’s free trade and free market ideology.

Instead, devotion to such Ohio leaders is now armed – in broad pages from candidates and advertisements from their allies – as proof that rivals are only speaking out to Mr. Trump and his angry populism.

“Josh Mandel: Another failed career politician squish,” a new ad from a super PAC that supports Mr. Vance, banged on Ohio TVs last Friday, and called Mr. Almond, who is taking his third Senate run, for a “two-way loser” and “a moderate for the moderates.”

After so much vitriol, Ohio’s primary election will begin to shed light on how much power the former president can still exercise from his exile. But in the final days of the campaign, the leading candidates left no doubt about his ideological grip on the party.

In an evangelical church near Dayton on Friday, Mr. Almond campaign with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who tried to blunt the impact of Mr. Trump’s approval of Mr. Vance two weeks ago. “At the end of the day, it’s not going to come down to who has approved whom,” Mr. Cruz, before he and Mr. Almond brought an elderly crowd to its feet with style-hearted prayers for conservatism and criticism of the Democrats.

Some in the crowd of more than 100 were concerned that the support for Mr. Vance had lowered Mr. Almond odds for victory markedly. “I think it fell a lot,” said Paul Markowski, a retired police officer in a Trump 2020 cap. He said he had not forgiven Mr Vance for comments he made in 2016 in which he condemned Mr Trump and said some of his support was driven by racism.

“I could get over the fact that he does not support Trump,” Mr. Markowski. “But when he got angry with us, the voters, it made me angry.”

Mr. Vance, for his part, pressed his attack on Mr. Mandel, who had fought for the former president’s approval with ads calling himself “pro-God, pro-gun, pro-Trump.” Sir. Vance’s spokeswoman, Taylor Van Kirk, called Mr. Mandel “a fake, fraudulent and sold-out man who claims to be ‘anti-establishment’ in public but throws President Trump and the entire MAGA movement under the bus to the establishment behind closed doors.”

In return, one Republican who has said the party has to move on from former President Senator Matt Dolan, Mr. Vance, for bringing members of the party’s extremist wing, criticized representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz from Florida. into the state on Saturday – not because of their extreme views, but because they are “outsiders” who “tell Ohioans how to vote.”

In the haste to the right, Mr. Gibbons, who had positioned himself as a businessman in Mr. Trump’s form and was once a frontrunner in Senate competition, promised his allegiance to a right-wing movement, called the Convention of States, to rewrite the Constitution to limit federal power. .

All the major candidates in the Republican Senate primary election have insisted they are the true conservatives in the race, but only one, Mr Vance, has the official imprimatur of the former president. That means the verdict that Republican voters will deliver on Tuesday will show whether even conservative candidates like Mr. Almond and Mr. Gibbons can overcome a cold shoulder from Mar-a-Lago.

“President Trump is a major factor in this state,” said Alex Triantafilou, the longtime chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, which includes Cincinnati. “He’s just that. He’s still motivating our base in a way that some people think is waning, but it’s not from my perspective.”

Still, it would go too far to call Tuesday’s Republican primary a referendum on the future of Trumpism – in Ohio and beyond. The state’s low-key Republican governor, Mr. DeWine, does not appear to be threatened in his quest for re-election of a primary challenger, Jim Renacci, whose “Putting Ohio First” campaign adopted MAGA themes in his attack on Mr. DeWine’s response to the pandemic. Mr. Trump refused to support Mr. Renacci as he saw no prospect of victory.

The former president’s attack chased one Ohio Republican who voted to retire him, Representative Anthony Gonzalez, and he ran a former White House assistant, Max Miller, running for a seat in the Ohio House. despite an accusation from one of Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said he had physically abused her.

But in other contests, such as a heated Republican primary in northwest Ohio, mainstream Republicans are expected to win over conservative showmen like JR Majewski, who painted his huge backyard into a 19,000-square-foot Trump election sign and posted a video of himself walking. through a closed factory with a shotgun.

In the Senate race here, however, Mr. Trump’s influence is undeniable. The state was once a reliable birthplace for center-right Republicans, such as Mr. Portman, Mr. Boehner and Mr. DeWine, who has been in Republican politics for 45 years, as a Member of Parliament, Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and Governor.

But the free-trade, free-market and pro-legal immigration sentiments that were once hallmarks of the party have been washed away by Trumpism.

And the primary in Ohio is starting a four-week period that will reveal a lot about Mr. Trump’s influence on the party – and how transferable his continued popularity is to others. After Ohio, his preferred elections in Nebraska, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia will all be tested in heated primary elections.

Sir. Encouraged by the support bump and leading in a Fox News poll, Vance is unlikely to go to the center, confident of support from the Republican base. On Saturday, he will storm through Ohio with two figures from the party’s right wing, Ms. Greene and Mr. Gaetz. On Sunday and Monday, he will be joined on the campaign trail by two other figures in the former president’s camp, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri and Charlie Kirk, the bombastic leader of the far-right Turning Point USA.

But after lagging behind in the primary competition for several months, Mr. Vance into the final piece as something of a front-runner, with the other candidates training their fire against him.

Mandel, the business-backed political action committee, Club for Growth, is releasing an ad repeating attacks that Mr Vance made in 2016 against Mr Trump and his supporters, suggesting that the former president made a mistake with his approval.

A pro-Vance super PAC, heavily funded by Peter Thiel, the Trump-adapted financier that Mr. Vance works for, fired Friday with an ad in Columbus, Dayton and Cleveland that portrays Mr. Almond as a “squish”. Mr. Mandel’s embrace of the Republican candidates for the presidency in 2008 and 2012, John McCain and Mitt Romney, is treated in the ad as a scarlet letter, and kind words from Mr. Kasich could just as well have come from Nancy Pelosi.

“Josh Mandel, he is for them, not us,” the narrator says, a clear message that Tuesday’s primary election is aimed at the Republican extremists, not the kind of voters who once supported Mr Kasich and Mr Romney.

Sir. Gibbons, who is still in the hunt for the nomination, will troop yet another Trump ally, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, out on Monday to witness his conservative bona fides. In a series of statements Friday, apparently sent out to appeal to the far right, Mr Gibbons said a “gloomy need for real change” meant he would support a convention to rewrite the constitution, saying a new efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to combat disinformation would be “a de facto ‘Ministry of Truth'” to crush dissent.

Jonathan Weisman reported from Columbus, Ohio, and Trip Gabriel from Dayton. Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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