Why the Senate GOP primary in Ohio is 2022's one race to watch

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Culture wars, Big Tech and economic populism — including inflation, gas prices, immigration and jobs to China. For a preview of many of the themes that'll drive American politics in next year's midterms and even beyond, watch J.D. Vance, the "Hillbilly Elegy" author who's running for U.S. Senate in Ohio.

Why he matters: Vance, 36, last week joined a crowded GOP primary field to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman. If Vance won the primary (no sure thing), he'd be the favorite to win the seat — and instantly would be talked about as a presidential possibility.

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Vance told me in a phone interview from Cincinnati that so-called cancel culture was a big part of conservatives' conversation as he worked Fourth of July parades over the holiday weekend.

  • "People are terrified that if they speak their minds about what's going on in the country, they're going to lose their job," he said. "'If I say that I voted for Trump on Facebook, somebody's going to try to get me fired."

  • "You can basically give people the right to sue companies that they're fired for their political views," he added. "I think that would benefit a lot of Republican voters in Ohio quite a bit."

On Big Tech, Vance said his "least radical option" would be to protect political expression "so you can't censor people based on their political viewpoint," including banning them from platforms.

  • Vance said antitrust remedies "effectively recognize that, so long as these companies are too powerful, there's no real way to control them. ... You break them up, and you make them less powerful actors."

  • Vance said he'd consider a "strike at the heart of the entire digital technology business model," by banning the collection of certain data or even banning the sale of advertising targeted at individuals.

On bringing jobs to Ohio from California and elsewhere, Vance said the Buckeye State should lean into cheap energy for manufacturing:

  • "If Ohio is allowed to flourish as an energy capital of the country, it won't just benefit oil and natural gas providers, it won't just mean lower gasoline at the pump. It will also mean better margins for our manufacturers, which will create a lot of jobs."

Vance was against Donald Trump in 2016 but strongly for him in 2020. "[I]f I actually care about these people and the things I say I care about, I need to just suck it up and support him," Vance told TIME's Molly Ball.

  • The Vance camp points out the warm words the candidate has gotten from Fox News' Tucker Carlson and top MAGA personality Charlie Kirk, founder and president of Turning Point USA.

I asked Vance how campaigning differs from a book tour. "It's different to sell a set of problems than it is to sell a set of solutions," he said. "In a book, you can just talk about the problems. That's much easier."

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