AMAC Exclusive – by Seamus Brennan
As the Biden administration continues to collapse and Republicans grow more optimistic in their bid to win back both chambers of Congress next fall, their focus is narrowing to a handful of swing states that will likely determine control of the now-evenly split Senate. Among these states is longtime battleground Ohio, where a Senate seat will soon become vacant.
Following Senator Rob Portman’s (R-OH) retirement announcement earlier this year, a crowded and highly competitive field of potential successors has emerged—highlighting both the high-stakes battle for control of the Senate and the fight over the future of the GOP. Ohio has been trending solidly red in recent elections: the state has not swung blue in a presidential election since 2012, and the electoral successes of Ohio’s only Democrat senator, Sherrod Brown, are likely due to the years he happened to run for reelection–in 2012 on the coattails of President Obama, and in 2018 during a tough midterm cycle for Republicans.. As such, whoever wins the Republican nomination for Portman’s Senate seat looks well-positioned come next November.
Among the contenders vying for the seat are author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party chairwoman Jane Timken, Cleveland-based car dealer Bernie Moreno, and investment banker Mike Gibbons.
The primary, for which a date has not yet been set, has predominantly revolved around advancing President Trump’s populist message. Though there is no clear frontrunner at this point in the race, in recent weeks momentum has been trending steadily in Vance’s direction. A Middletown, Ohio native, Vance rose to national prominence following the release of his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, which many political pundits and academics have cited as an insightful examination of the concerns of the so-called “forgotten men and women of America” who helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016.
Vance has since embraced his outsider status and formulated his policy platform as a continuation of the Trump administration’s America First agenda. On his campaign website, Vance brands himself as someone who “understands how our economic and government leaders conspire to make life harder for normal Americans” and who “knows what it’s like to live in a left-behind community.”
Vance’s national popularity has predictably earned him criticism from the media and other members of the elite class. In July, The Atlantic rebuked him as a “contemptible and cringe-inducing clown,” and as his national profile continues to rise, mainstream media platforms have seemingly made it a top priority to cast his character, candor, and motivations into question—something Vance has welcomed as a sign his candidacy poses a formidable threat to establishment politics.
Vance’s opponents have also embraced a populist message. Josh Mandel, who served on the Lyndhurst, Ohio city council and in the state legislature prior to his two terms as state Treasurer, has stated that, throughout his career in politics, he has not owed “anything to anybody” and his sole commitment has been “to the people.” Jane Timken’s campaign has put her forward as “a conservative disrupter who will go to Washington to cut through the noise and get things done.” Bernie Moreno has said that “politicians need to listen to the demands of the people more than the people need to listen to demands from ‘the experts,’” while Mike Gibbons declared that “career politicians have failed us.”
Though President Trump himself has not yet weighed in on the race or made an endorsement, members of his administration and others in his orbit have begun selecting their preferred candidates: Vance has earned the endorsement of former Trump National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, Mandel was endorsed by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Timken was endorsed by Governor Kristi Noem (R-SD), and Moreno was endorsed by former Senior Counselor to President Trump Kellyanne Conway. Gibbons has also been endorsed by Senator Rand Paul, an influential political figure in neighboring Kentucky.
Although the primary season is still young, the trajectory of Ohio’s Republican senatorial candidates paints an unambiguous picture of the direction of the party. While the GOP continues to lay the groundwork to achieve a Senate majority next November, it remains clearer than ever that the establishment-ridden GOP of yesteryear is dead. The future of the Republican Party now looks to be ambitiously building on the foundation laid by President Trump and his America First agenda.
As with any open seat, Democrats are sure to mount an aggressive challenge, desperate to pick up any seats to preserve their majority. But regardless of who ultimately emerges from the primary contest, recent history in Ohio gives the Republican nominee a good chance to win the general election next November – as long as they remain true to the America First principles that have helped turn Ohio from a swing state to a solidly Republican state in less than a decade.
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