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Former President Donald Trump’s summer endorsement spree skipped over Ohio, where an expanding field of Republican Senate hopefuls is jockeying intensely for the seal-of-approval poised to matter most in the 2022 primary.
Trump’s hands-off approach to Ohio contradicts early endorsements delivered in other competitive Republican congressional primaries — including Senate campaigns in Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, as well as one for the House in Wyoming. The former president’s endorsement in the GOP Senate primary in Ohio could prove particularly decisive, with Republicans ascribing his apparent patience to an array of factors not present in other races.
The primary lacks a clear front-runner, although former state treasurer and failed 2012 Senate candidate Josh Mandel leads in early polling. Neither Mandel nor the rest of the field is especially tight with Trump, although former Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken is considered a close ally. They all have some fatal flaw that Trump might yet latch on to as a reason for refusing to reward them with his endorsement.
“The Senate race in Ohio continues to be an effort by all candidates to prove that they’re the best Trumpian candidate,” said David Myhal, a Republican strategist in the state and vice chairman of the board of the Center for Christian Virtue.
The Center for Christian Virtue, a conservative group based in the state capital of Columbus that advocates for religious liberty, is scheduled to host a forum and debate next month for Republican Senate contenders.
“Everyone is going to be putting their best, Trump foot forward,” Myhal added.
On Monday, the number of Republicans vying to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman grew again when state Sen. Matt Dolan jumped into the race. Dolan, whose family owns Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, is considered more pragmatic and traditionally conservative than his competitors. Some Republicans who worried the existing field tilted too populist — in other words, too Trumpy — are pleased by his candidacy.
But it is unclear whether Dolan will raise any red flags with the former president, as he does not have a history of loudly and openly criticizing Trump. Dolan plans to attend the Oct. 24 forum and debate in Columbus, an event that could provide the first glimpse of how the candidates stack up against each other and who might be best positioned to receive the coveted Trump endorsement.
"President Trump remains a big influence in the Republican Party, but it’s the Republican ideals that he puts forth that’s resonating with people, and that’s what I’m focused on," Dolan told the Columbus Dispatch.
But it turns out Dolan had already committed a mortal political sin — or at least has been a party to one: The renaming of the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians. The change in mascot, Trump said in a Monday evening statement, was reason enough to oppose Dolan’s candidacy.
“Anybody that changes the name of the once storied Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians should not be running for the United States Senate representing the Great People of Ohio,” the former president said. “The Atlanta Braves didn’t change their name, and the Florida State Seminoles didn’t change their chant, but Cleveland has, and they were there first. Despite this, a man named Matt Dolan, the son of the owner of the team, said he is against Cancel Culture. Do those two things really work together? In any event, I know of at least one person in the race who I won’t be endorsing. The Republican Party has too many RINOs!”
Where Trump has endorsed so far, he had overriding objectives or close relationships with the candidates he backed.
In Alaska, Trump endorsed Kelly Tshibaka as part of his mission to defeat Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted to convict him on one article of impeachment in January. In Alabama, he endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks, who led the charge to block certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in Congress and is personally close with some top Trump allies. In Georgia, Trump backed longtime personal friend Hershel Walker.
In North Carolina, Trump endorsed Rep. Ted Budd after he worried Budd and Republican Mark Walker would split the conservative vote and allow former Gov. Pat McCrory, who has criticized him in the past, to win the primary. In Pennsylvania, Trump backed Sean Parnell, a political ally who is personally close with him and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, dynamics that might generate an early Trump endorsement are less evident, if not missing altogether.
Mandel is making the most obvious play for the former president’s backing. But Trump might be turned off by his 2012 loss and his late decision to exit the 2018 Senate race. Timken was Trump’s hand-picked Ohio GOP chairwoman but earlier this year defended Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez amid criticism from the Right for voting to impeach the former president for his alleged role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno was once an outspoken Trump critic. But he has since become a prominent supporter of the former president and even counts Kellyanne Conway, former counselor to Trump in the White House, among his backers. Venture Capitalist and polemicist J.D. Vance also used to be a Trump critic but has since come around, becoming a top supporter and practitioner of the former president's pugilist style of populist politics.
Then there is investment banker Mike Gibbons. He sought the Republican Senate nomination in 2018 but never gained any traction — which is not exactly appealing to Trump. But Gibbons is an outsider businessman who can afford to self-finance his campaign, qualities that might appeal to the former president.
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Original Author: David M. Drucker