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Winning the Messaging Battle, Part I

Trump Looks to Be About to Make a Major Endorsement in Key Senate Race

AP Photo/Jeff Dean

The battle for the U.S. Senate, which Democrats currently only control because Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote, could come down to Ohio's Senate seat with the retirement of Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican. The Republican field is a particularly crowded field, with some memorable contentious moments. Former President Donald Trump may soon be wading in, with an NBC News report indicating he plans to endorse "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance, leading "Vance" to trend over Twitter on Thursday. The report cites "three sources with knowledge of his decision."


The report also indicates that Trump had been calling others to get their opinion on him endorsing Vance, though other Republican figures have been hoping he'd endorse other candidates, such as Josh Mandel, who formerly served in the Ohio House of Representatives and as the Ohio State Treasurer.

From the report:

In recent days, Trump began calling donors and advisers to get their opinion endorsing on the “Hillbilly Elegy” author, but he held off under intense pressure from the rival Republican campaigns of Josh Mandel and Jane Timken, the sources said.

"The Mandel people hit the roof," one Republican with knowledge of the discussions told NBC News, noting that Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan tried to dissuade Trump on behalf of Mandel, whom the congressman supports.

Other concerns include potential polling issues for Vance:

Though Trump's press shop had already written up an endorsement of Vance, a source close to Mandel’s campaign said Thursday that it threw up a last-minute obstacle for the former president to consider: an internal Republican poll conducted by his campaign showing Mandel in front with 33 percent of the vote, followed by Matt Dolan and Mike Gibbons tied at 15 percent. Vance and Jane Timken were tied at 9 percent in the Mandel poll.

The poll showed that, even with Trump's endorsement, Vance rose to 15 percent support but was still in a three-way tie for second with Mandel marginally in the lead at 19 percent — a sign that Trump's endorsement had weight but was not determinative.


In public poling, Mandel and Gibbons lead the pack with roughly 20 percent of the vote each.

But Vance isn’t so far behind in the public polling that he can’t catch up. And those who have spoken to Trump or his advisers in recent days say he sees the most growth opportunity with Vance and a chance to make a real difference.


Michael Caputo, who formerly advised Trump, indicated over Twitter in a reply to the report that he is encouraging support for Vance. "He's the guy," Caputo in part tweeted.

Vance already has support from Steve Cortes as well, who also formerly advised Trump. In a piece for American Greatness, Cortes addressed why he supports Vance, also acknowledging that the candidate was wary of Trump in 2016, but has since warmed up to him:

Like any advocate of bold reforms, Vance has drawn the scorn of plenty of effete elites. They seem particularly annoyed that this person they considered to be part of their privileged “club” publicly advocates against their corruption. The Washington Post, owned by oligarch Jeff Bezos, recently ran a lengthy piece on Vance’s “radicalization,” going so far as to ridicule his beard as a prop to appeal to laborers. Warmonger Tom Nichols penned his own hit piece on Vance for The Atlantic, titled “The Moral Collapse of J.D. Vance.” Neither Vance nor his supporters should worry about the condemnation of a former Harvard professor, MSNBC pundit, and associate of the scandal-plagued Lincoln Project. 

Similarly, Republican-turned-CNN wunderkind Alyssa Farah recently lamented that she “can’t believe we are losing Rob Portman for potentially this guy.” Farah does not realize that in Ohio, where Trump won both 2016 and 2020 by eight points, her disavowal of Vance is akin to a glowing endorsement.

Vance also finds detractors among GOP skeptics claiming that he is insufficiently MAGA because of his prior criticisms of President Trump. Like millions of Americans—myself included—Vance was indeed suspicious at first of Donald Trump. But, once won over by President Trump’s policy successes, Vance quickly reversed himself. This conversion represents an authentic example of Vance’s thoughtfulness. He is a leader willing to reconsider issues and people. What’s more, his embrace of the 45th president and Trump’s agenda cost him dearly—he immediately lost the adoration of the elites who had formerly welcomed him. 

In pursuit of higher goals for America’s citizens, Vance passed up on a comfortable path of accolades and rewards. It speaks well of his character—and his candidacy.


The piece was from February, but Cortes tweeted it once more in light of Trump's expected endorsement.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) also tweeted about Vance earlier on Thursday, sharing a tweet from last August that included a clip of Vance appearing on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight."

It's worth noting, however, that the endorsement has not yet come, and it may not come after all, though Trump would likely not endorse anyone, then. "Nothing is final until it’s final. So Trump can always change his mind," the NBC News report cited one source as saying. "But he already kicked the tires on everyone and he’s ready to go with Vance. It’s either Vance or nobody. And it’s only nobody if somehow the other campaigns can get him to hold off," the source continued. 

Not everyone is thrilled with the possibility of such an endorsement. Should Trump do so, it will come after he endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz last weekend, though not all were happy with that endorsement either.

Trump won Ohio in 2016 with 51.7 percent of the vote and in 2020 with 53.3 percent of the vote. This Ohio seat has been included in several lists of what to watch for in the upcoming midterm elections. Republicans are already predicted to win back control of the House, and may win control of the Senate as well. 


The predictions for this particularly seat look good for Republicans as well. Cook Political Report has it at "Lean Republican," while Sabato's Crystal Ball is at "Likely Republican" and Inside Elections is "Solid Republican."

The primary is less than a month away, on May 3rd. 

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