What Ohio’s primary election portends for the 2022 midterms

A busy month of primary elections kicked off Tuesday with a marquee Republican race in Ohio. It was a critical test for former President Trump and his influence on the Republican Party. Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    A busy month of primary elections kicked off yesterday with a marquee Republican race in Ohio.

    As John Yang explains, it was a critical test for a former president, Donald Trump, and his influence in the GOP.

  • John Yang:

    Geoff, in that race, Trump endorsed author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, a one-time never-Trumper. He beat out a crowded field of candidates, most of whom tried hard to get Trump's backing.

    In his victory speech last night, Vance said Ohio Republicans had sent a clear signal.

    J.D. Vance (R), Ohio Senatorial Candidate: Now, this campaign, I really think, was a referendum on what kind of a Republican Party we want and what kind of a country we want.

    We went to battle. Do we want a Republican Party that stands for the donors who write checks to the Club For Growth, or do we want a Republican Party for the people right here in Ohio?


  • J.D. Vance:

    Ladies and gentlemen, we just answered the question.

  • John Yang:

    The former president's endorsement was something of a surprise because Vance had been sharply critical of Trump in the 2016 campaign.

    Kyle Kondik is joining us. He is the managing editor of Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

    Kyle, thanks for being here.

    What did we learn yesterday about President Trump's influence?

    Kyle Kondik, University of Virginia: He's still got a lot of power in the Republican Party.

    And part of that power is that Republican candidates feel like they need to get his endorsement, they want to get his endorsement, and it's worth seeking his endorsement because it can have a demonstrable effect on who wins and loses.

    And, look, maybe, in some world, Vance could have won without Trump's endorsement if he hadn't backed somebody else. But what we know from looking at the numbers is that Vance was gaining in this race a little bit before Trump endorsed him, but Vance gained a lot after Trump endorsed him.

    And I think it's reasonable to credit Trump with a significant share of this victory, which I think Vance clearly believes and other Republican candidates are going to believe down the line when they do try to seek Trump's endorsement.

  • John Yang:

    At the same time that J.D. Vance was winning, the incumbent governor, a moderate Republican, Mike DeWine, overcame two challenges who were pressing him on his response to the pandemic. He had very strict restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic.

    I mean, so — and you think that's an issue that it would appeal to Trump voters, so what was going on?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    Well, I think DeWine really benefited from having split opposition, because he actually ended up getting a little under 50 percent of the vote.

    There's no run-off in Ohio. And DeWine did win very comfortably. He got 48. His next closest competitor was in the high 20s. And probably the most prominent DeWine opponent was Jim Renacci, a former Senate candidate in 2018 who didn't run a particularly good race in 2018. And he was sort of crowded out by this guy named Joe Blystone, who's a farmer who became this kind of like cult figure almost in rural Ohio.

    But Blystone got a fair amount of the vote. So did Renacci. But so neither of them can sort of consolidate to really push DeWine. Had there been a really strong single challenger to DeWine, maybe we'd be having a different story today.

  • John Yang:

    J.D. Vance now goes on to the general campaign, the general election in November. He will face Congressman Tim Ryan, who represents a district in Northeastern Ohio.

    This is a state that Donald Trump won both times, 2016 and 2020, both by about 8 percentage points. Last night, in his victory statement, Congressman Ryan acknowledged he's going to have to appeal to Republican voters.

  • Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH):

    And we meet a guy who voted for Trump twice, lifelong Republican. I talked about beating China,. I talked about manufacturing. I talked about building things. I talked about infrastructure in Marietta.

    He got done, and he said, this is the most refreshing political conversation I heard in five years. I'm voting for Tim Ryan, because I'm tired of all the…


  • John Yang:

    What do you think of that race ahead?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    Well, look, Ryan, I think knows what the challenge is in front of him.

    And Ryan is from a part of the state, the Youngstown-Warren area, kind of traditionally Democratic, a place that's really struggled with deindustrialization. And a lot of those places in Ohio and across the Midwest really have trended toward the Republicans, particularly since Donald Trump became kind of the leader of the Republican Party.

    And so, in a state that Donald Trump won by eight points, and in a year that looks like it's going to be Republican-leaning both in Ohio and across the nation, Ryan's going to have to get a lot of crossover support.

    Vance doesn't strike me as a super weak Republican candidate, the way that some Republican candidates have been in Senate races in the recent past, I guess, most recently, Roy Moore in Alabama. Whatever problems Vance may have, he doesn't — he's not — doesn't have those sort of horrible problems that a candidate like Roy Moore had.

    So I don't think that — I think Vance would really have to kind of mess this up or for the environment to change in order to lose this race.

  • John Yang:

    This was the first sort of primary — Trump test in a primary this midterm season. We have got some primaries coming up where Trump has made endorsements in competitive races, coming up, particularly Pennsylvania on the 17th.

    He's endorsed Dr. Oz in the Senate race. Georgia on May 24, he's endorsed a slate of statewide candidates. Are these states — or compare these states to Ohio and the candidates and the races to J.D. Vance and his race? Is Trump going to be able to replicate what he — what happened yesterday in these states?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    It remains unclear.

    But I will say that Trump did sort of stick his neck out on Vance a little bit, and he ended up being rewarded for it. We will see if that happens with Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, because that's a race that also seemed pretty close when Trump made his endorsement.

    It does look like Brian Kemp, the incumbent Republican governor of Georgia, who had a falling out with Trump — Trump endorsed former Senator David Perdue in that primary — Kemp seems to be doing really well in that primary. There's a run-off there, but polling has shown Kemp well over 50 percent at this point.

    So it looks like Trump is not going to get everything he wants in May. But, from his perspective, I think he got off to a good start.

  • John Yang:

    Kyle Kondik at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, thank you very much.

  • Kyle Kondik:

    Thank you.

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