CLEVELAND — After a whirlwind campaign that was unpredictable to the very end, Ohio has a Republican nominee for its next United States senator.
J.D. Vance, a Middletown native and venture capitalist who rose to fame with his bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy," has been projected by the Associated Press to win the GOP primary. The 37-year-old who has never held political office outlasted a field of six other candidates in the race to replace the outgoing Sen. Rob Portman.
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"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," Vance said during a Tuesday night victory speech in Cincinnati, specifically calling out the Club for Growth that endorsed former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. "The question presented in this primary was, 'Do we want to have a border that protects our citizens? Do we want to ship our jobs to China or keep them right here in America for American workers and the American people? Do we want a Republican Party that stands for the donors who write checks to Club for Growth, or do we want a Republican Party for the people right here in Ohio?' Ladies and gentlemen, we just answered the question."
As the Republican primary took shape shortly after Portman's announcement last year that he would not be running, it quickly became a quasi-competition to see who could win the praises of former President Donald Trump. Indeed, state Sen. Matt Dolan was the only GOP candidate to push back against Trump's false claims of massive voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, drawing the former president's wrath in the process.
Vance was once an ardent "Never Trumper," but later grew to embrace the former president's sometimes incendiary "America First" rhetoric. It was that Copernican shift that led Trump to endorse Vance just weeks before the primary, even though he acknowledged Vance had "said some not so great things about me in the past."
"Thanks to the president for everything, for endorsing me," Vance said Tuesday. "A lot of fake news media out there ... wanted to write the story that this campaign would be the death of Donald Trump's 'America First' agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, it ain't the death of the 'America First' agenda."
Vance will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who easily won the Democratic nomination. Should Ryan win, it would mark the first time since 1995 that both of Ohio's U.S. Senate seats were held by Democrats, as Sherrod Brown currently remains the state's senior senator.
"As much as he will try to claim that he's one thing, his voting record and the evidence suggests that he is the very worst of modern American politics," Vance claimed. "A guy who has spent 20 years failing the people of Youngstown and now wants the people of Ohio to give him a promotion, and we're not going to do it, ladies and gentlemen."