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Former President Trump’s influence in this year’s midterm elections gets its first big test in Tuesday's Ohio Senate Republican primary. As John Yang reports, Trump’s surprise endorsement of a one-time self-proclaimed “never-Trumper” has shaken up the race.
Former President Trump's influence in this year's midterm elections gets its first big test in tomorrow's Republican primary for Ohio's U.S. Senate seat.
As John Yang reports, Trump's surprise endorsement of a one-time self-proclaimed never-Trumper has shaken up the race.
Friday morning, at Nana's and Papa's diner in Thornville, Ohio, about 40 miles east of Columbus, time for this group's weekly breakfast.
On the menu, eggs, French toast, biscuits and gravy, and on this last Friday before the primary election, a large side of politics.
I want to talk to you about the Senate race, the Senate primary on Tuesday.
The name that comes up again and again isn't even on the ballot, Donald Trump, who is backing Senate candidate J.D. Vance.
Trump stepped up and backed J.D. Vance. So…
And that's what made the difference for you?
Greg Goebel, Ohio Voter:
I am 100 percent behind Donald Trump, so — and that's who he recommended.
For most of the five major candidates, and polls show no clear front-runner, it has been contest who could seem the most like Trump.
Mike Gibbons (R) Ohio Senatorial Candidate: President Trump fought for you. I will do the same.
Jane Timken (R) Ohio Senatorial Candidate: Who is the candidate that's the true America first candidate?
Josh Mandel (R), Ohio Senatorial Candidate: It is not enough to elect Republicans. We have got to elect the right kind of Republicans.
They tout Trump's issues, trade, immigration and the 2020 election.
There is no doubt in my mind there was fraud.
J.D. Vance (R), Ohio Senatorial Candidate: Stealing the 2020 election.
I believe the 2020 election was stolen.
First some voters, like finance analyst Bob Beisel, who was at a Vance event near Columbus, that's a litmus test.
Bob Beisel, Ohio Voter:
You're not a true, I would say, put America first MAGA candidate if you feel that the 2020 election was fair.
The crowded Republican contest is getting far more attention than the Democratic primary, where Representative Tim Ryan is the heavy favorite.
Donald Trump, Former President of the United States: This man is going to win. Come up, J.D.
Last month, in Delaware, Ohio, Trump personally blessed Vance's candidacy in the Republican primary.
Ohio, do we love this guy?
If you want to deliver a historic victory for America first here in Ohio, J.D. Vance is your guy.
That surprised many since, in 2016, Vance was a self-proclaimed never-Trumper.
In an interview that year about his bestselling memoir, "Hillbilly Elegy," Judy Woodruff asked Vance about Hillary Clinton's description of Trump supporters as a basket of deplorables.
Is there something to what she said, or is she completely off-base?
J.D. Vance I think it is probably both. There are definitely — there is definitely an element of Donald Trump's support that has its basis in racism or xenophobia.
At a campaign event near Dayton last week, registered nurse Lisa Boucher asked Vance about his previous comments.
Lisa Boucher, Ohio Voter:
I can't get past how much you hated Trump.
Even when I didn't like Trump personally, I liked a lot of what Trump talked about and I liked a lot of what Trump stood for. I think if you have seen what I was saying at the time, you would see the full spectrum of how I felt about it.
How concerned are you about the sort of skepticism we heard today?
I think some people are skeptical. Some people aren't. And at the end of the day, we're going to win the race afterwards.
Afterwards, Boucher seemed unconvinced.
You can only sell yourself to a certain degree. And then, for me, I'm going to go with my gut.
But for Joab Scott, an autoworker from Southern Ohio, Vance's change of heart mirrors his own.
Joab Scott, Ohio Voter:
I think there was 15 people on the stage at one time, and I think he was my 15th choice. I'm just guilty as J.D. Vance of not supporting Trump, in the very beginning.
Kevin Black, Ohio Voter:
Ohio has always been typically a battleground state.
Scott and his brother-in-law, Kevin Black, who works in finance, are both backing Vance.
I liked where he came from. I like that he came from poverty, a lot of adversity in his life. So I had already made the decision. I mean, the Trump endorsement was just kind of an added bonus.
For Black, it helped seal the deal.
If he puts his faith in some other big-name players who are putting their reputation behind J.D., then I got to trust what they're saying.
I'm going to Washington to be reinforcements for fighters.
Many observers expected former state treasurer Josh Mandel to get the Trump endorsement.
In his third run for the U.S. Senate, Mandel has been a steadfast crusader for Trump's agenda, though, in Nebraska yesterday, Trump seemed confused about just who he endorsed.
We have endorsed J.P., right, J.D. Mandel, and he's doing great.
Mandel is backed by Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):
We need a warrior to stand and fight!
Mandel, who often campaigns in evangelical churches, met reporters with Cruz before an appearance near Dayton.
What do you see in Josh Mandel that President Trump didn't see?
Sen. Ted Cruz:
It's easy for a candidate to say the right things. What I look for is, what is the candidate's record? When had they stood and fought and bled?
Other candidates also claim a link with the former president. Attorney Jane Timken was handpicked by Trump to lead the Ohio Republican Party.
A lot of the candidates in this race, all of a sudden, they have seen the light and they're fighting for those America first policies, but I'm the true fighter.
Mike Gibbons, a millionaire investment banker, touts a Trump-like personal history.
When I get to Washington, I will not know owe anything to anybody. I cannot be bought. I have already achieved my American dream.
Of the leading candidates, only state Senator Matt Dolan did not seek Trump's support.
Matt Dolan (R), Ohio Senatorial Candidate: I'm the one in the race who is talking about executing. Everyone else is talking about making noise. I know who I'm fighting for, what I'm fighting for. These guys just want to create fights.
This cantankerous contest is a sharp contrast to Ohio's recent tradition of mainstream statewide Republican officeholders.
Senator Rob Portman.
That includes the man whose Senate seat is at stake, Rob Portman, a free trade, free market champion who's retiring. Last year, he helped negotiate the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure deal signed by President Biden.
President Joe Biden:
Senator Rob Portman is a really hell of a good guy. I'm not hurting you, Rob, because I know you're not running again. That's the only reason I say it.
What has changed? Vance voters Joab Scott and Kevin Black have different theories.
The Ronald Reagan Republican wasn't so divisive. He didn't do anything to make anyone divisive. And I think Trump Republican has to be divisive.
I'm going to say complete opposite. I'm going to say the voters haven't changed. I haven't changed. We're the same hardworking, Christian, Constitution, American, patriotic. That's the base of the Republican Party.
So you don't pick there's a difference between the Ronald Reagan Republican and the Donald Trump Republican?
Much of Ohio, especially here in the rural areas, still seems to be very much Trump country.
And at places like Nana's and Papa's, there's no doubt about Trump's influence on the primary election.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in Thornville, Ohio.
Watch the Full Episode
John Yang is a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
Tess Conciatori is a politics production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
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