Trump, emboldened after Ohio win, faces challenges

NEW YORK – After a win in the first real test of his power as GOP kingmaker, former President Donald Trump enters the next leg of the mid-term campaign emboldened – and faces new risks.

Trump’s late endorsement of JD Vance in the Ohio GOP Senate primary catapulted the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” to victory in last week’s election and reinforced the deep ties the former president holds among the most loyal Republican voters.

“Every single candidate I supported won their primary on Tuesday,” Trump crowed at a Friday night rally in Pennsylvania, where he held up Vance as a trophy for his achievement. “Tuesday’s early results are just the latest evidence that we’ve changed the face of the Republican Party. Thank God.”


As Trump seeks to assert his dominance of the party ahead of another possible presidential nomination, some allies say the Ohio win could embolden him to increase his involvement in other bitter primaries from Arizona to Missouri, where he is a former governor and current candidate for the US Senate is to strengthen, Eric Greitens, is faced with allegations of abuse. But there’s also caution that the upcoming phase of the campaign, which resumes Tuesday with a close GOP race for governor in Nebraska, could be more complicated for Trump.

“Round one on Trump, but I think it’s going to be a lot harder from here,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP donor who spent time at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club last week. “I think it’s going to encourage him to get even more involved and it has to worry him, too,” Eberhart said, pointing to questions about what it’ll be like “the day after Pennsylvania or the day after Georgia.”

In some ways, Trump’s allies concede, Ohio was a uniquely favorable state for him.


Trump overtook Ohio by more than 8 percentage points in the 2016 and 2020 elections. The candidates running to fill the seat vacated by retired Senator Rob Portman desperately campaigned for his endorsement while attempting to portray themselves to voters as the group’s trumpeter. The field was crowded, meaning even a small bump would have been enough to make a difference. And Trump’s endorsement addressed Vance’s biggest flaw in the race: his past criticism of Trump.

“It clarified things, consolidated the vote and helped JD bridge a confidence deficit among primary voters,” said Luke Thompson, who ran Vance’s Super PAC. “It’s happening because Trump’s endorsement told conservative voters, ‘You can trust this guy because I do.’

But even in this environment, there were warning signs for Trump. More than two-thirds of the Republican voters who cast their ballots in the race voted for Vance’s rival. And nearly a quarter chose Matt Dolan, the only candidate who didn’t bother for Trump’s nod.


For now, however, Trump is riding high. And allies say the former president may be ready to take even bigger risks after clinching a major victory.

That could mean early confirmation in Arizona’s hard-fought Senate primary, where Republicans will select a candidate in August to take on Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, a top Republican target.

Trump has already been viewed as a supporter of Blake Masters, a young conservative who, like Vance, has the backing of billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, but lacks Vance’s celebrity appeal. Masters faces off against Attorney General Mark Brnovich and businessman Jim Lamon. Trump has repeatedly railed against Brnovich, accusing him of not fighting hard enough to overthrow voters in the 2020 election.

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said he believes Trump took a risk in backing Vance. “He took someone who was struggling in the polls but has a great personal bio and prominent status and helped get him over the goal line.” also willing to take risks in politics and will therefore tend to want to act.”


But, according to Schlapp, “acting has advantages and disadvantages. If you support someone and they don’t win, it can be perceived that your support is not that important.” Schlapp supports Lamon.

The rest of the monthly calendar will be more difficult for Trump, especially in incumbent races.

On Tuesday, Republicans will vote in Nebraska, where Trump had backed Charles Herbster, who was seen as a strong front-runner for much of the race but is now fighting allegations that he groped at least eight young women at public events. Nearly every leader of the Nebraska GOP establishment has rallied behind businessman Jim Pillen.

Meanwhile in West Virginia, a race in the 2nd congressional district between Republicans Alex Mooney and David McKinley will serve as another barometer of Trump’s clout in a state he twice won by large margins. Trump backed Mooney on the day President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill into law last year. He has repeatedly condemned McKinley and 12 other House Republicans for voting with Democrats despite the bill calling for $6 billion in infrastructure spending for West Virginia.


Next week, Trump’s pick for an open Senate seat in North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd, is well-positioned after a rocky start against former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker. But in Pennsylvania, despite Trump’s late confirmation, prominent TV doctor Mehmet Oz is in a close race with ex-hedge fund CEO David McCormick and conservative activist Kathy Barnette, according to the latest Franklin and Marshall College poll.

Trump’s decision to endorse Oz earned the doctor a wave of media attention and a rally Friday night where Trump touted the impact of his Vance endorsement (“He was like a rocket,” Trump said, with sound effects), praising Oz ( “I’ve known him for a long time. His show is great. He’s on this screen. He’s in all these women’s bedrooms”), exposing McCormick as a “liberal Wall Street Republican” who is “absolutely the nominee for special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment.”


But Oz hasn’t experienced the same kind of polls that Vance experienced in the days after Trump’s entry. And that resistance was evident in the rain and mud on Friday, with some in the crowd booing at the mention of Oz’s name before Trump’s arrival and others standing and turning their backs as he took the stage, according to video of the event.

Vance, who attended the rally with Trump, made it clear to voters that even if they didn’t support Oz, the race was a referendum on Trump himself.

“It’s not about Dr. Oz,” Vance said. “It’s about nothing but you and Donald Trump. These people are trying to make it so that Trump-backed candidates are going to be defeated, because if they do that, the fake news media will say, ‘Well, supporting Donald Trump doesn’t matter,'” he continued. “We need to support the candidates who are supported by Donald Trump. That’s why I’m here.”

The month ends with contests in Alabama — where Trump dumped Rep. Mo Brooks when it became clear the nominee was struggling in his Senate race — and in Georgia, where the governor’s race is Trump’s biggest challenge. For now, he appears poised for a major defeat as former Senator David Perdue trails incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, arguably Trump’s biggest target on the election calendar for dismissing Trump’s efforts to try to reverse the 2020 election results.


But even if his candidates lose their primary or ultimately their general election, Trumpism has already won. Hundreds of candidates have walked in the image of the former president and his America First policies — with some running ads claiming his support even when he didn’t support them — revealing how dramatically Trump transformed the party when he is contemplating another presidential bid in 2024.

And while it seemed at one point that party leaders would reject him, Trump will again lead a major party fundraiser Monday, this time at a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner in Dallas.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Trump, emboldened after Ohio win, faces challenges

Justin Scacco

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