COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Former President Donald Trump on Friday backed “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance in Ohio’s bitterly competitive Republican Senate primary, ending months of jockeying in a race where his backing could be crucial.
In a statement, Trump described Vance as “the most qualified candidate and ready to win in November.”
“It’s about winning!” he wrote.
The decision marks a major blow to Vance’s top rivals – former Treasurer Josh Mandelinvestment banker Mike Gibbons and former president of the Republican Party of Ohio, Jane Timken – who has been locked in a heated and controversial race for both the nomination and Trump’s support in a primary election that is now less than three weeks away.
On Thursday night, dozens of Republican leaders in Ohio launched a last-minute effort to urge Trump not to support Vance after a news report said Trump had made a decision.
While Trump lost his re-election campaign in 2020 after two federal lawsuits, he remains deeply popular among the GOP base, including in Ohio, a state he won twice. While Gibbons and Mandel had been leading in recent polls, state strategists had long admitted that the former president’s support was likely to push his election forward in the herd in a race that has largely revolved around him.
In addition to taking frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago, repeating his election lies and hiring a group of former Trump aides, the candidates and their affiliated super-PACs have also spent millions trying to present themselves to voters like Trumps preferred opportunity and paint each other as insufficiently loyal to the former president.
Vance in particular has come under fire for old sound and since deleting tweets calling himself a “never-Trump guy”, Trump called an idiot and said he might have to keep his nose shut and vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But the author, venture capitalist and naval veteran has since changed his tune, saying he regretted his previous comments. In the race, he has lined up close to the former president, appearing frequently on Fox News and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon’s podcast, repeating Trump’s rhetoric on topics including trade and immigration.
Trump acknowledged in his statement that Vance “may have said some not-so-great things about me in the past.” But he said Vance, with whom he has been in frequent contact, “understands it now, and I have seen it in spades.”
Trump also referred to the other candidates who have gone to extreme lengths to win his support. “This is not an easy approval for me to give because I like and respect some of the other candidates in the race – they have said good things about ‘Trump’,” he wrote, urging his supporters to unite behind Vance.
Trump had this week told allies that he had settled on Vance, according to two people familiar with his mindset, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks, and went ahead despite a desperate last-minute effort . to change the minds of rivals and some party leaders.
While Trump had long been concerned about Vance’s position in the polls, he eventually decided that Vance was the candidate best positioned to take on US Representative Tim Ryan, the Democratic frontrunner he expects to be a particularly tough competitor. for the fall. . Trump, an avid TV viewer, also felt that Vance presented himself best on television and was particularly impressed with his performance during the candidates’ final debate. He was equally struck by what one person described as “debate debacles” between Mandel and Gibbons, in which the two men almost came across an earlier face-off.
In addition to their own report, Vance also had the backing of Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., Fox News host Tucker Carlson and others who had spoken on his behalf.
In an interview earlier this week, Vance talk radio host Hugh Hewitt said he was not sure if Trump would end up joining the race, but thought that if he did, it would come before Trump returns to the state. to a meeting on 23 April.
“He wants to support the person he thinks can beat Tim Ryan,” Vance said.
The endorsement is the second long-awaited nod that Trump has given this week as primary elections approach. Last Saturday, he backed up Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary on May 17, months after his first approved candidate, Sean Parnell, resigned over allegations of abuse by his estranged wife.
In Ohio, the candidates had long been preparing for the opportunity that Trump, split between candidates, might choose to sit completely out of the race or perhaps support more than one person to avoid deciding.
But even those he passed continued to support Trump on Friday.
Mandel said in a tweet that he would “continue to be a proud supporter of President Trump and the America First agenda” and looked forward to gaining his support in the general election, while Timken in a statement called the decision “disappointing”. , though she continues to assert Trump’s previous endorsement of the presidency of the state party.
Meanwhile, Sen. Matt Dolan, the only major candidate in the race who did not aggressively court Trump, accused his rivals of “embracing lies and undermining the Constitution for going all-in for one approval.”
“They cheaper their candidacies and the integrity of the office they want to achieve with campaigns that are now in chaos while ballot papers are being cast,” he said.
The winner of the May 3 primary election is likely to meet Tim Ryan in November for the seat being vacated by retired Republican Senator Rob Portman. ___ Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard of Roanoke Rapids, NC contributed to this report.