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Here We Go: High Stakes in Today's Ohio GOP Senate Primary

AP Photo/Joe Maiorana

Let's face it, the GOP US Senate primary in the Buckeye State has been a bit of a bleep-show from the start. Maybe more than "a bit," from cartoonish confrontations to ridiculous ads to ugly sniping to weird pandering. At long last, primary day has arrived, so this extended bout of intra-party warfare will soon be put out of its misery. Why are the stakes in this primary fight so high? Two big reasons: First, this is a must-hold seat for the party. The nominee will emerge battered and bruised, facing the challenge of a rested and well-funded "moderate" Democrat in the general. More on him in a moment. Donald Trump carried the state by eight points in 2016, then repeated the feat four years later. Ohio has reddened in recent years, and this is shaping up to be a red-to-scarlet-hued election cycle. That combination should be enough to keep the seat in Republican hands, but nothing can be taken for granted.

Second, this is the first major 2022 test of Trump's continued influence within Republican politics. He's already had to "un-endorse" his anointed Senate pick in Alabama, due to an impending failure – and his feud with Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia may also end poorly, from Trump's perspective. Trump is out on a limb for Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, and for JD Vance in Ohio. Or JD something-or-other: 


He mashed up the names of JD Vance, the candidate he actually endorsed, and Josh Mandel, one of Vance's opponents. Mandel's supporters are running ads attacking Vance for opposing Trump in 2016, a move that has reportedly infuriated Trumpworld. Meanwhile, another candidate is said to be surging at the tail end of the race, and he's the least overtly Trumpy option on the ballot: 


If that's all true, maybe Matt Dolan can pull off a shocker. But Vance is the favorite. It's been a crowded primary for months, with no candidate clearly pulling away from the pack. Trump waded into the mire and picked his man, helping Vance shoot up from a somewhat-floundering third or fourth-place candidate to a narrow frontrunner. A Vance victory would allow Trump to tout his kingmaker status. A Vance loss would be a blow to the former president's aura of dominance and invincibility on the Right, with others likely to follow. As we alluded to earlier, the Democrat in the race will be Congressman Tim Ryan, who's trying hard to run away from his party's toxic national brand: 


The problem? Ryan has voted for the Biden/Harris agenda literally 100 percent of the time, per a FiveThirtyEight analysis. He talks like a "moderate" and "independent." He votes like Pelosi and hasn't bucked Biden – who is 19 points underwater in Ohio, according to a recent poll – a single time. "My party sucks, vote for me to go save their majority is definitely an angle," snarks a Republican operative. Beyond that, it's hard to authentically argue that you're a maverick who stands up to your own party when...you don't actually do that. Ryan was even one of the unanimous-minus-one House Democrats who voted to pass "Build Back Better," a $5 trillion inflation bomb that raises taxes on millions of middle-class households while carving out a generous tax break for blue state millionaires. That almost sounds too bad to be true, but it is an accurate assessment.

All of which is to say that whomever emerges on the GOP side tonight in Buckeye country will certainly have a lot of material to use against the presumptive Democratic nominee in the race. Ryan will be shrewd and won't lack for funds. He'll play the part of a blue collar midwestern pragmatist. But his voting record is what it is, the Democrats' self-created mess in DC is what it is, and the president's disapproval rating is what it is. Advantage: J. Dolan Mandel. 

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