Home Donald Trump Trump’s endorsement of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ writer tested his power in the GOP

Trump’s endorsement of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ writer tested his power in the GOP

Trump’s endorsement of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ writer tested his power in the GOP

Once again, the eyes of a nation — or at least those of its political junkies — were on Ohio.

Once a swing state and bellwether for America’s presidential picks, Ohio now tilts more solidly toward Republicans. As such, the results of Tuesday’s primary were closely watched as a predictor of former President Trump’s grip on the Republican Party. And with J.D. Vance claiming victory in the GOP Senate primary, signs are that Trump’s hold is strong as ever.

Early Newspaper

Vance, whose memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” was made into a movie, scored the former president’s coveted backing, winning out over a crowded field of Trump acolytes. The endorsement immediately propelled Vance to the front of the pack, illustrating the continuing sway Trump commands among party faithful.

Other primaries Tuesday included the race for Ohio governor, where GOP incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine fended off challenges from three Trump-supporting candidates running to his right and is set to face Nan Whaley, the Democratic former mayor of Dayton, in the general election.

Indiana also held a primary Tuesday, with Republican legislators in most cases holding off challengers aiming to push the statehouse further to the right.

Here’s what you need to know.

A victory for Vance

Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance speaks at a rally in Mason, Ohio, on Jan. 30.

J.D. Vance, shown as a rally in January, is a former Trump critic who won the ex-president’s endorsement.

(Jeff Dean / Associated Press)

Vance, a venture capitalist, was once a vocal Trump critic who later recanted those views and adopted Trump’s policy positions and pugnacious personality on the campaign trail. The conversion apparently won over the former president, who held an Ohio rally featuring Vance soon after issuing his endorsement.

“He’s a guy that said some bad [stuff] about me — he did,” Trump said at an April rally in Delaware, Ohio. “But, you know what? Every one of the others did also. [In] fact, if I went by that standard, I don’t think I would have ever endorsed anybody in the country.”

Trump’s backing undercut the key message from Vance’s opponents — that he was a traitor to the Trump movement. Conservative groups such as Club for Growth spent millions to attack Vance on the airwaves, accusing him of disloyalty, only to find themselves crosswise with the president they were purporting to defend.

Vance had struggled in the polls, prompting his rivals to mount a last-ditch attempt to deter Trump from weighing in. But the endorsement provided a clear jolt to Vance’s standing. Now, the author’s win will add another notch to Trump’s tally of winners he’s endorsed — a favorite metric of his — and more broadly, reinforce that his influence remains strong in a state he won handily in both 2016 and 2020.

What the runners-up tell us

Votes were still being counted late Tuesday, with Josh Mandel, formerly the state’s treasurer, in second place, with state Sen. Matt Dolan close behind.

Trump’s decision to endorse Vance was a blow to Mandel, who had actively courted Trump and his voters, promising he would be a loyal acolyte in the Senate.

Mandel was also caught up in one of the most contentious moments of an unusually heated campaign — a debate stage confrontation with businessman Mike Gibbons that nearly led to blows.

Dolan was the sleeper in the race, catching little flak while his rivals tore into one another. But he had one important detractor: Trump.

Publicly, Trump’s displeasure with Dolan stemmed from sports — specifically, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball club, which Dolan’s family owns. Their decision to change the team’s name from the Indians to the Guardians earned scorn from Trump, who said anyone supporting such a rebranding is “not fit to serve” in the Senate.

Dolan, who only recently surged in the polls, had represented a greater threat to Trump’s influence over the GOP. If he had won, it would have demonstrated that parroting the falsehood of 2020 election fraud is not a prerequisite among Republican voters, undercutting a major litmus test Trump has sought to impose on the party.

Dolan’s close finish with Mandel showed he could give some moderate Republicans turned off by the MAGA flank an option. But compared with Vance’s win and the vote totals for other Trump acolytes, it’s clear that the former president’s influence remains potent in the GOP.

Rep. Tim Ryan wins Democratic primary

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan talks with reporters following a debate with other Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)

(Paul Vernon / Associated Press)

Vance will now take on the Democratic nominee, Rep. Tim Ryan. Ryan, who mounted a short-lived presidential campaign in 2020, faces an uphill battle in his increasingly red home state. A native of the Mahoning Valley, one of the regions hardest hit by the decline in the manufacturing industry, Ryan is hoping a blue-collar campaign that promises tough action on China and a rejection of his party’s most progressive policies will help him overcome the odds.

Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.

Trump’s endorsement of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ writer tested his power in the GOP