All that’s missing is Trump himself.
“She said nothing wrong, and I’m absolutely not going to throw her under the bus, or anybody else who’s a friend of mine,” Vance said.
Self-funding financier Mike Gibbons and former state Treasurer Josh Mandel have also courted Trump aggressively. Gibbons has cast himself as a candidate in Trump’s mold — a former businessman with no real political background, and experience making money in systems that he’d now like to overhaul.
“You’ve never been in the private sector in your entire life. You don’t know squat,” Gibbons said.
It’s all unfolding without Trump weighing in publicly on the race. The former President has waded into other competitive Senate primaries, including soon in neighboring Pennsylvania, where he told The Washington Post on Wednesday he will make an endorsement in “about a week.”
Mandel and Gibbons have led the pack in most polls. But Timken and Vance also have some support, and all four have flooded the airwaves with ads.
Dolan, meanwhile, is attempting to tap into the concerns of some Republicans that the race to appease Trump and court his most ardent supporters in the primary could ultimately damage the GOP’s chances of holding on to the seat in November.
A changing state
Some, though, continue to succeed there. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won reelection in 2018, coasting to a 7-point victory as Republicans swept every statewide executive race. And Democrats have won a handful of statewide judicial races too.
Still, for a Democrat to win in Ohio, large swaths of independents and Republicans would need to find the GOP nominee unacceptable.
With control of a Senate that’s now split 50-50 on the line, losses in any combination of those states could imperil Republicans’ hopes in what should otherwise be a good midterm for the party in the current political environment.
In Ohio, Democratic strategists privately say the Republican who would be toughest to beat in November is the one they’re most certain GOP primary voters won’t nominate: Dolan. Democrats see the state senator, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, in the mold of Portman, who has held the seat since 2011. Unlike rivals, including Mandel, who say the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, Dolan has acknowledged the reality of Joe Biden’s victory.
“Let me be very clear, Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States,” Dolan said at the debate in Wilberforce. “My problem is he’s a failed president.”
Leaning into the culture wars
The television ad battles have also seen GOP candidates making cultural arguments — with Mandel and Vance both launching spots in recent days that attempt to tap into conservative frustrations over their positions being labeled as “racist.”
But the scenery in the ad also ignited controversy. The 30-second spot features Mandel standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the landmark site where peaceful civil rights activists were beaten by police during a 1965 march.
“Martin Luther King marched right here so skin color wouldn’t matter,” Mandel says.
He also tweeted a thanks to King’s daughter Bernice King and The King Center “for motivating me to film this ad. My visit to Selma was powerful and inspiring and I look forward to returning and bringing my kids.”
“Your father knew the importance of the Second Amendment when he tried to exercise his right to self-defense,” he said, “and was wrongly denied a gun permit by anti-gun racists.”
Portman has endorsed Timken, who nevertheless frequently reminds audiences that she’s been endorsed by Trump before.
“Long story short, he was there at the beginning for President Trump,” Mandel said of Lewandowski at the Wilberforce debate — a comment that also underscored Mandel’s seeming belief that his only viable rival is Gibbons.
Only Dolan, in another debate this week, raised the issue of Lewandowski’s hiring, saying that Timken “hasn’t yet explained” to voters why she hired Lewandowski, “who has been investigated for assault to women.”
“Corey Lewandowski is a friend of mine,” Timken responded. “He knows that I’ve been in the trenches fighting for America First policies because Corey came into Ohio and campaigned for President Trump with me.”