Update: Despite a last-minute pitch against this very thing by dozens of GOP leaders in Ohio, former President Trump on Friday endorsed Hillbilly Elegy author JD Vance in the state's crowded Republican Senate primary. He described Vance as "the candidate most qualified and ready to win in November" in a statement. The AP notes Trump is still "deeply popular" with Republicans in the state, which he won in both 2016 and 2020. As for Vance's past comments—about Trump being an idiot, among other things; Vance has since done an about-face—Trump allowed that 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." Our original story from Friday follows:
With no clear front-runner in the five-way race in Ohio's Senate GOP primary, Donald Trump's endorsement could help decide it, and a lot of Republicans don't want him to give the nod to JD Vance. Sources told NBC News Thursday that the president is on the verge of endorsing the Hillbilly Elegy author, but other Republicans including rival candidate Josh Mandel are fighting hard to prevent it. Dozens of county GOP chairs and members of the state GOP central committee have signed a letter urging Trump to support "a true America First" candidate instead of Vance, Politico reports.
The letter cited numerous negative comments Vance made about Trump, though the candidate has since walked back remarks he made in 2016, saying he regrets "being wrong about the guy." A polling firm linked to former state treasurer Mandel released a memo Thursday arguing that Vance would finish in fourth place even with Trump's endorsement. Sources tell Politico that businessman Mike Gibbons, slightly ahead of Mandel in recent polling, isn't on Trump's "radar" and that Trump doesn't want to endorse Jane Timken, who reportedly tried to portray Trump's endorsement of her for state GOP chair in 2017 as endorsement in the Senate race. A fifth candidate, state Sen. Matt Dolan, isn't seeking Trump's endorsement.
Trump also has concerns about Mandel's record in previous Senate races, insiders tell the Columbus Dispatch. Mandel lost to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012 and dropped out of the Senate primary in 2018. Sources say Trump also thought Mandel's behavior in a recent debate, where Mandel stood up to confront Gibbons over a remark on his lack of private sector experience, was "embarrassing." Donald Trump Jr. is a Vance supporter, but Politico's sources say with the May 3 primary now just weeks away, Trump might decide not to make an endorsement and risk "choosing a loser, especially after he stayed out of it for over a year." (Read more Election 2022 stories.)