In the battle for the 2022 Republican nomination for the Buckeye State’s open Senate seat, there’s been a rush by the two declared major GOP candidates to embrace Trump in a state he comfortably won in 2016 and 2020.
"I’m running for the United States Senate to stand up for you just like when I stood next to President Trump and supported is American First agenda," former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken said Thursday in a video announcing her bid to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman. "As your senator I would advance the Trump agenda without fear or hesitation."
"I’m a mom and I’m a fighter and I’m stepping up to fight for the America First agenda and be a champion for all Ohioans."
Hours later, touting her Trump bona fides, Timken emphasized in a Fox News interview that "no one has worked harder for Trump and his agenda than me."
Timken’s entry into the race came a week after Josh Mandel, a former Ohio state treasurer and Marine veteran who served in the Iraq war, became the first major candidate to jump into the race.
"I'm going to Washington to fight for President Trump's America First Agenda," Mandel emphasized in a tweet announcing his candidacy. It was a line he repeated in a Fox News interview.
And highlighting his Trump credentials, Mandel said "I was the first statewide official to support President Trump in 2016. I was one of his top fundraisers in Ohio in 2020."
Mandel's campaign manager Scott Guthrie spotlighted in a statement that "Mandel is the only unabashedly pro-Trump candidate in this race."
And taking aim at Timken, Guthrie added that "while other candidates said they 'didn’t know' how they would vote on impeaching President Trump, Josh Mandel stood strongly and vocally against the sham and unconstitutional impeachment."
It’s no surprise that both Timken and Mandel are battling to be the Trump-backed candidate – and both are seeking his endorsement. Trump won the state by 8 points in his 2016 presidential election victory – and by the same margin last November in his reelection defeat.
Timken touts that she was "hand-picked" by Trump in 2017 to run the Ohio Republican Party. Taking aim at former two-term GOP Gov. John Kasich, who was one of Trump’s most vocal Republican critics, Timken told Fox News that "as Ohio Republican Party chairman, I cleaned house of the Kasich establishment."
Hours after Timken jumped into the race on Thursday, Mandel tweeted out a photo of Timken with Kasich from the 2016 Ohio presidential primary, which was Kasich’s only victory in his unsuccessful GOP bid for the White House.
Timken had backed her home state governor in the GOP primaries that year before supporting Trump in the general election. And Mandel backed Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida before supporting Trump.
Kasich quickly took to twitter to tweet out a photo of him and Mandel together on the 2012 campaign trail, when Mandel was making his first bid for the Senate, an election he lost to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Mandel retweeted the photo and took a dig at Kasich, who remains a Republican.
"Thx for the shoutout... was a bit unexpected but appreciate it and I will always work with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle," Mandel wrote.
Paul Beck, a veteran Buckeye-based political scientist and a professor emeritus at The Ohio State University, noted that "it makes sense for Republican candidates to seek Trump’s endorsement and attach themselves to him."
He suggested, "Timken probably has a better chance of getting Trump’s support because she was his handpicked choice to be the chair of the Republican Party here in Ohio."
On Friday, Timken picked up endorsements from former top Trump political adviser Steve Bannon, and from Peter Navarro, a top economic adviser to then-President Trump.
At least a half dozen other Ohio Republicans are considering a run to succeed Portman. That list includes Rep. Steve Stivers and J.D. Vance, the venture capitalist who’s known for the best-selling memoir, "Hillbilly Elegy."
Trump has given no indication at this point that he’ll weigh in on the Ohio Senate primary, but he’s vowed to remain a kingmaker in a party that he reshaped and ruled over during his four years in the White House. Corey Lewandowski, a top Trump adviser, told Fox News last month that the former president would be "actively involved" in Republican Party primaries.
The race to embrace Trump in Ohio comes as the latest national polls indicate the former president remains extremely popular with Republican voters, and as he takes aim at Republicans who crossed him or failed to support his efforts to upend his loss to President Joe Biden.
"There’s no doubt that Trump remains the most dominant force in the Republican Party right now, as a former president who has chosen not to go the route of exiting the political stage when his term in office runs out," longtime GOP strategist Colin Reed told Fox News. "As long as he holds open the idea of running or intervening in primaries, he’s going to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room, especially in states like Ohio that have trended red so fast."
With the Democrats defending their razor-thin majority next year, the GOP is aiming to win back the Senate. Part of that strategy starts with holding on to the Republican controlled seat in Ohio.
Reed, a veteran of Republican presidential and Senate campaigns, cautioned that ‘looking forward, that’s not a winning ticket for Republicans to win the majority. Any party that loses the presidency goes through a period in the wilderness where new leaders look for ways to fill the power vacuum. But in this case, the new boss is the same as the old boss because of Trump’s seaming unwillingness to exit stage right.
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