AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
Midterm season officially kicked off on Tuesday with a slate of primary elections across Ohio and Indiana, including several marquee races that Republican and Democrat insiders were watching closely as key indicators of voter sentiment heading into November. While the final results provided several interesting trends worth following this election season, the key takeaway was clear – former President Donald Trump remains the undisputed leader of the Republican Party, and his endorsement is the single biggest determining factor in deciding primary contests.
The highest-profile race on the ballot Tuesday was for Ohio’s open U.S. Senate seat, where a crowded field of Republicans was vying to replace the retiring Rob Portman. The four main contenders were former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken, Ohio state Senator Matt Dolan, businessman Mike Gibbons, and venture capitalist and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance. With the exception of Dolan, who ran an explicitly anti-Trump campaign, all the Republican candidates actively pursued the endorsement of the former President, with Vance finally securing the nod just a few weeks ago.
Trump’s endorsement appears to have been decisive in boosting Vance over the top, as the first-time candidate won comfortably on Tuesday with a little over 30% of the vote. Whereas Vance was polling in third or fourth place in most polls prior to receiving Trump’s stamp of approval, he immediately catapulted into first place soon after. That momentum carried through to election day, and Vance won the vast majority of Ohio’s 88 counties. Mandel, who before the Trump endorsement had enjoyed a somewhat comfortable lead in the race, finished second in nearly every county that Vance won and second overall with around 23% of the vote, more evidence that Trump’s endorsement carried significant weight for Ohio Republican voters.
Elsewhere in the Buckeye State, other Trump-endorsed candidates also had big nights. Former Trump aide Max Miller cruised to the nomination for Ohio’s 7th Congressional District, while Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, who many GOP insiders say could be a future rising star within the party, also won in the Ohio 13th. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Congressmen Troy Balderson, Steve Chabot, Warren Davidson, Bill Johnson, and Brad Wenstrup – all endorsed by Trump – also easily won contested primary races. In all these cases, the margin of victory was as notable as the victory itself, with each candidate garnering a sizable plurality, and in many cases a large majority of the vote.
Just to the west in Indiana, a heated Republican primary battle came to a conclusion in the 1st Congressional District when Air Force reservist Jennifer-Ruth Green, an unabashedly pro-Trump candidate, earned nearly 50% of the vote and beat out LaPorte mayor Blair Milo and perennial candidate Mark Leyva, who was the GOP nominee for the seat in the last two cycles. If Green goes on to defeat incumbent Democrat Frank Mrvan – entirely possible in the D+4 district in a Republican wave year – she would become the second Black Republican woman ever elected to Congress.
The other race of note in the Hoosier State on Tuesday was the Republican primary contest in Indiana’s 6th Congressional District, where incumbent Greg Pence, the brother of former Vice President Mike Pence, received a Trump endorsement and fended off a challenge from James Alspach. Again, Trump’s support appeared to go a long way toward securing an easy victory for an incumbent Republican.
On the Democratic side, Tuesday also offered some notable insights into the direction of the Democratic Party. In Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, comprising most of Cleveland and several surrounding suburbs, incumbent Shontel Brown easily fended of a progressive challenger in Nina Turner. While Brown is herself a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (and had the CPC’s endorsement, as well as a rare endorsement from President Biden), Turner had the backing of prominent progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. In what was viewed among Democratic insiders as a proxy war between the establishment and progressive wings of the party, voters went with the less progressive (but still staunchly liberal) Brown by a wide margin, suggesting that even among Democratic primary voters, progressivism may be falling out of favor.
Running for a chance to take on the Republican nomineet in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, Democrat Congressman Tim Ryan did as expected and locked up the Democratic nomination early Tuesday night. While Ryan carries a voting record that is by no means moderate, he did run a more moderate campaign than challengers Morgan Harper and Traci Johnson, who secured a mere 17% and 12% of the vote, respectively. Again, it appeared that Democratic primary voters were not interested in nominating a more progressive candidate, which could be bad news for incumbent Democrats who have to defend their progressive voting record in general elections this fall.
In the six months leading up to election day, every week except one will have a primary election. If Tuesday’s results are any indication, most of those contests on the Republican side where Trump has made an endorsement will go to the candidate supported by the 45th President. That means that, if polls are correct and Republicans indeed retake Congress this year, it will likely be thanks in large part to a slate of candidates committed to Trump’s America First agenda and ready to continue advancing his policies in Washington.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter at @Shane_Harris_
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