A few hours after I got into Cincinnati recently, I met a friend for a drink. “Have you seen any of the local TV ads yet?” he asked.
24 hours later, I’d seen as much as I wanted to – a relentless barrage of Republican candidates vying to “out-Trump” each other as they aimed to secure the former president’s endorsement; the modern equivalent of courting the party boss.
Al Hunt recently described Ohio politics as a “cesspool of corruption, dominated by shady entrenched Republican politicians,” and voters go to the polls today – May 3 – in the at-times vicious GOP Senate primary to choose who will contest the seat of the retiring Rob Portman against, in all likelihood, Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan.
In terms of endorsements, Trump eventually settled on JD Vance, the Hillbilly Elegy author who had previously been critical of the former president, and who may have momentarily forgotten the depth of the state’s ties to Ukraine.
Vance quickly leveraged Trump’s endorsement into a new round of funding from tech investor Peter Thiel. But of course that hasn’t been the end of the matter. Vance’s closest rival, Josh Mandel, has continued to somehow claim a closer relationship with Trump and his ideology, and was likely encouraged when the waters were muddied by a mis-speaking at a MAGA rally the other day.
The GOP primary in Ohio, like in several other key states, will be a test of the strength of the Trump brand and a means of measuring the distance – if any still remains – between the party mainstream and its Congressional establishment, with senior Senate figures warning its primary voters not to screw up the party’s prospects for November.
If baseball fans are any indication of political temperature in Cincinnati, perhaps the only thing you can say is that the “Let’s Go Brandon” chants are sometimes a little too enthusiastic when the Reds’ third baseman comes to bat.
I’ll update later when the result becomes clear, but I’m sure Ohioans, like the rest of the country, will just be glad when it’s over.
Read also primary-related post: ‘Not Your Father’s GOP’
See also my conversation with veteran Ohio newsman Keith Herrell:
“I’ll go out on a limb and say a Republican will win [in November], unless Sherrod Brown can clone himself and enter the race – and even then he’d face a stiff task.”