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Trump endorses J.D. Vance in Ohio’s crowded GOP primary for Senate

J.D. Vance, a Republican running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, is seen March 28. (Paul Vernon/AP)
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Former president Donald Trump on Friday endorsed venture capitalist and author J.D. Vance in the Republican primary for a Senate seat in Ohio, a move likely to give the first-time candidate a boost in the crowded field.

“Like some others J.D. Vance may have said some not so great things about me in the past, but he gets it now, and I have seen that in spades,” Trump said in a statement. “He is our best chance for victory in what could be a very tough race.”

When Trump first ran for the White House in 2016, Vance, author of the bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy,” called the New York businessman and reality TV star “cultural heroin,” said his policies ranged from “immoral to absurd” and labeled him “unfit for our nation’s highest office.”

Since then, Vance has fully embraced the former president’s politics as he pursued the GOP nomination to replace Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is retiring.

In his endorsement, Trump described Vance as “strong on the Border, tough on Crime, understands how to use Taxes and Tariffs to hold China accountable, will fight to break up Big Tech, and has been a warrior on the Rigged and Stolen Presidential Election.” The former president continues to perpetuate his baseless claims that widespread voter fraud cost him reelection.

In a tweet, Vance happily accepted the endorsement, saying he was “honored” to have it and voicing support if Trump makes another White House bid.

“He was an incredible fighter for hard working Americans in the White House,” Vance said. “He will be again, and I’ll fight for the America First Agenda in the Senate.”

Vance has noticeably changed his positions to become a candidate more aligned with the former president’s views. Just six years ago, when he was considered a “never Trump” Republican, Vance criticized Trump for targeting immigrants and Muslims. But as recently as last year, he lashed out against Republican Sen. Ben Sasse’s embrace of refugees from Afghanistan. Online, he’s become more willing to engage in the sort of attacks that were common in Trump’s now-shuttered Twitter feed, trolling Democratic politicians and liberals.

Trump advisers working for other candidates, along with more than two dozen county party chairs, tried to talk the former president out of the endorsement after it was reported to be imminent, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe private talks.

Vance opponents also released polling showing him losing — and likely to lose with Trump’s backing — though the aggressive move seems to have backfired.

Trump was lobbied aggressively by David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth, not to endorse Vance, and received so many calls on Friday about the endorsement that he “stopped taking calls,” an adviser said. Others opposed to the Vance endorsement included longtime Trump advisers Corey Lewandowski and Kellyanne Conway, who are backing Jane Timken, the former chair of the Ohio Republican Party. “There was incredibly intense lobbying on all sides,” the adviser said. A second person close to Trump said he dictated the statement about Vance himself because he wanted to explain to others he had thought through the race and heard their arguments.

The endorsement may also plunge Trump into another risky primary race — he already raised eyebrows in the party last week when he endorsed fellow television celebrity-turned-politician Mehmet Oz in the contested GOP primary of a Senate race in Pennsylvania.

There is no clear favorite in the Ohio race, and the endorsement of Vance, backed by billionaire Peter Thiel and supported by Donald Trump Jr., among others, gives the candidate momentum against other Republicans. Portman has endorsed Timken. Former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel, who has the endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz (R), and financier Mike Gibbons also are seeking the nomination.

In a tweet, Mandel maintained his fealty to Trump and insisted he would win the GOP nomination.

“I continue to be a proud supporter of President Trump and the America First agenda. I look forward to earning his endorsement in the general election and working with him to defeat Tim Ryan in November,” Mandel wrote.

In a statement, Timken expressed her disappointment with Trump’s decision but reminded voters that Trump endorsed her for state party chairman, a position in which she was “incredibly proud to have dismantled the Never-Trump Kasich establishment and turned Ohio into a pro-Trump, conservative stronghold.”

The latter is a reference to former governor John Kasich, an outspoken critic of Trump.

“This race is about who can defeat Tim Ryan and retake the Republican Senate majority in November,” she said. “I am that candidate and I look forward to having President Trump’s endorsement in the General Election.”

Ryan, a congressman who ran for president in 2020, is seeking the Democratic nomination in a state that has leaned heavily Republican, strongly backing Trump in 2016 and 2020.

The Ohio primary is May 3 and early voting began on April 5. The candidate with the most votes will move on to the general election, without need of a runoff.