I use the term “MAGAgeddon” here loosely. It’s true that two Republican candidates whom Trump dislikes could be the big winners tonight in a state he’s won easily twice.
But if you want to see how strong he and the GOP are in Ohio right now, watch this ad. This is what the Democrat running for Senate there sounds like:
You want a fighter for Ohio? I’m all in. pic.twitter.com/hmn4mScwpV
— Tim Ryan (@TimRyan) May 2, 2022
You’re my new favorite moderate Republican, Tim.
There’ll be no MAGAgeddon in tonight’s primaries, the first of which involves the governor’s office. Trump has borne a grudge towards incumbent Mike DeWine since 2020, when DeWine acknowledged Biden as the legitimate president-elect. DeWine is also an awkward fit for the Trump era since he’s a classic Bush-era Republican who shies away from culture-war battles. Once in a blue moon you’ll see him on Fox, but rarely to engage in the usual primetime “Democrats suck” banter. He seems like a natural target for a Trump-backed primary challenger — but Trump never got around to endorsing one, probably because he concluded that DeWine is unlikely to be beaten. He’s averaging 48 percent in recent polling to Trump-aligned challenger Jim Renacci’s 31 percent. Another candidate is pulling 17 percent, raising the possibility that DeWine would be in trouble *if* MAGA voters had flexed their muscles by uniting behind a single candidate. But they haven’t, so DeWine looks poised to cruise to an easy win.
Which could matter in tonight’s marquee race, the months-long disgrace you and I know as the Ohio Senate primary.
I wrote at length about the dynamic there yesterday and will direct you to that post if you need to get caught up. My gut says that J.D. Vance will surf his Trump endorsement (Don Jr has been campaigning for him aggressively) to a comfortable-ish win by taking 35 percent or so. But he’ll have to improve on his latest polling to do that: RCP currently has the race Vance 26, Josh Mandel 22.5, and Matt Dolan 21.5, with also-rans Mike Gibbons and Jane Timken combining for another 22 percent. That’s a lot of uncertainty. Thickening the plot is the fact that it’s an open primary so Democrats are free to vote in the Republican race instead of their own party’s primary, where Ryan’s win is a foregone conclusion.
All of that has conspired to create some unexpected suspense. In a campaign where nearly all of the candidates have bent over backwards to present themselves as the Trumpiest figure on the ballot, the least Trumpy — Dolan — has surged lately and suddenly stands a real chance at an upset. That’s the “MAGAgeddon” scenario tonight, in which DeWine *and* Dolan end up winning in a Donald Trump stronghold. But it’s not true MAGAgeddon, of course, since either Vance or Mandel or probably even Gibbons or Timken would have beaten Dolan in a one-on-one race by consolidating MAGA voters. Only because those voters are split four ways does Dolan have a shot at sneaking through with 30 percent or so. Still, a win’s a win. And having moderate Mike DeWine on the same ballot, turning out his more centrist voters for the race, could be Dolan’s secret weapon if they end up voting for him downballot.
It could happen, says pollster Robert Cahaly of Trafalgar, whose final poll had Dolan just five points behind Vance:
“Saturday and Sunday, there was a big Dolan surge,” says Robert Cahaly, the pollster who runs Trafalgar. “The snapshot of Sunday doesn’t look anything like the snapshot of Friday. . . . Vance has always been first, but Vance’s lead shrunk and second place switched hands” between Mandel and Dolan. “It wasn’t that Vance was going down. It was just that undecideds were breaking [to Dolan] and making the gap tighter.”
Another positive sign for Dolan in the Trafalgar poll: Among the 9 percent of likely voters in the primary who were still undecided, a solid majority are backing incumbent governor Mike DeWine, a traditional Republican with a profile similar to Dolan’s, in the gubernatorial race: According to Cahaly, in the Senate primary DeWine voters break 33 percent for Dolan, 21 percent for Vance, and 18 percent for Mandel. (Trafalgar finds DeWine at 47 percent in his own primary race, 20 points ahead of his nearest challenger.)
Meanwhile, Trump’s endorsement of Vance remains tepid. At the rally the two held recently in Ohio, Trump couldn’t resist reminding the crowd that the former Never Trumper had said some unkind things about him in the past. Last weekend, he celebrated how well “J.D. Mandel” was doing in the polls. Then last night he held a tele-rally for Vance — and gave him a less-than-full-throated endorsement again:
Vance’s prize backer, Trump, has also appeared indifferent, despite his “complete and total endorsement” of the Ivy League investor. At a rally over the weekend, Trump called Vance by his top opponent Josh Mandel’s last name—“J.D. Mandel.” And on Monday, when Trump tried a reset during a telerally shortly after the Vance event, he hedged again.
After touting his “unprecedented” endorsement record, Trump said “it took a lot of courage for all of us to get into this mess they have up in Ohio.”
“I actually like all of them,” Trump admitted.
Who knows if that’s a case of Trump hedging his bets because he’s not confident Vance will win or responding in a Pavlovian way to all of the praise he’s gotten on the stump from Vance’s rivals. But I’m sure Vance was hoping for more.
He did catch one major break last night, though. This hit from Mandel a few hours ago was so stinging that I wonder if it would have affected the race had the SCOTUS leak happened a week earlier:
If JD Vance had his way in 2016, Roe v. Wade would remain standing for generations.
— Josh Mandel (@JoshMandelOhio) May 3, 2022
Back in his Never Trump days, Vance once famously expressed his antipathy to Trump by saying, “I might have to vote for Hillary Clinton.” His opponents attacked him throughout the campaign for having been squeamish about Trump until relatively recently. If the Court leak had come sooner, reminding Ohioans of the Supreme Court repercussions of the 2016 race, it would have handed Mandel and Dolan a heavy club with which to beat Vance during the home stretch. As it is, it came too late.
Probably. We’ll know soon, won’t we?
Polls in Ohio close at 7:30 ET. The handy widgets below will have live results of the Senate and gubernatorial primaries minute by minute as they come in. You won’t get them any faster than you will right here.