The endorsement has sparked deep resentment from those backing Vance’s rivals, who launched a furious last-ditch effort last week to try to change Trump’s mind.
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Former President Donald Trump’s late endorsements in hypercompetitive Republican Senate primaries in Ohio and Pennsylvania have unlocked a flood of support for his chosen candidates, including millions in cash.
But the endorsements have also prompted backlash from some Republicans who believe Trump betrayed his core supporters by supporting ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author JD Vance in Ohio and TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. . Both candidates have been criticized for time spent outside their states and for their lack of commitment to the former president and his “America First” agenda.
The blowback included calls from a large conservative group aligned with a Vance rival to boycott the rally Trump held in Delaware, Ohio on Saturday night where he urged his supporters to rally behind Vance, the calling it “the man with by far the best chance of defeating the radical Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in November.”
“If you want to deliver a historic victory for America First here in Ohio and also a historic defeat for the people who are destroying our country, JD Vance is your man,” he told the crowd.
It’s unclear whether Trump’s backing will be enough to get Vance and Oz across the finish line in races that will serve as key early tests of the former president’s influence in this midterm elections. year. But the endorsements pose a risk for Trump, who has staked his status as a GOP kingmaker on his ability to mobilize his supporters as he eyes another run for the White House in 2024.
In Ohio, Trump’s support has already been a major boon for Vance, who was trailing in the polls prior to Trump’s intervention. While allies admit that Trump’s 5 p.m. announcement on Good Friday, less than three weeks before the May 3 primary election, may not have been the most desirable time, the campaign nonetheless reported an increase 300% of online donations – a majority of new donors.
Protect Ohio Values, the super PAC backing Vance, said it had brought in $5 million since Trump’s endorsement, including a $3.5 million check from venture capitalist Peter Thiel.
Both groups are using the money to run new ads trumpeting Trump’s endorsement that they expect to run exclusively for the rest of the campaign.
“We want to make sure 100% of people know about it. And we’re going to go all out,” said Luke Thompson, who leads the super PAC, which has found Vance’s support increases when voters are told he’s Trump’s choice.
Ohio strategists and rival campaigns had long conceded the endorsement of Trump, who remains deeply popular with Republican voters despite his 2020 election loss and his role in instigating the 6 January, was likely to push any candidate ahead of the pack. Vance’s aides see the endorsement as particularly helpful for their candidate given that the main line of attack filed against him has been his past criticism of Trump.
Trump addressed those comments head-on on Saturday night, joking that if he refused to back anyone who had criticized him, he wouldn’t have anyone to endorse.
“In the end, I put that aside,” he said. “I have to do what I have to do. We have to pick someone who can win.”
But the endorsement has sparked deep resentment from those backing Vance’s rivals, who launched a furious last-ditch effort last week to try to change Trump’s mind. Trump has called on his supporters to rally around Vance, but Vance’s main rivals, including the Trump-aligned Growth Club, which backs former state treasurer Josh Mandel, have so far refused to withdraw. Instead, they continued to run anti-Vance ads, drawing anger in particular from Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who campaigned for Vance and is expected to return to the state on Monday for a full day of events.
Ohio Value Voters, a conservative group that has also backed Mandel, had called for a boycott of Trump’s rally on Saturday, saying Trump had made a “terrible decision” and calling on those in attendance to boo Vance during his presentation.
The state’s Tea Party movement, which overwhelmingly supports Trump, had also planned to demonstrate outside.
“To him, endorsing JD Vance really seemed like President Trump was out of touch with what’s happening in Ohio and what his supporters here want,” said Tom Zawistowski, one of the group’s leaders.
Zawistowski warned that the endorsement could end up splitting Trump’s support base in the main state in three ways between Vance, Mandel and Cleveland banker Mike Gibbons. He said it could pave the way for victory for former GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken or even moderate Sen. Matt Dolan, the only candidate in the race who hasn’t promised to support Trump and his positions if he does. was elected.
So far, some voters are siding with Trump.
Linda Davidson, a retired financial consultant from Kirtland, said Trump’s endorsement “greatly” crystallized her vote for Vance.
“Actually, I was waiting. I couldn’t make up my mind,” she said Wednesday after an event in the Cleveland suburb of Independence. “I was a little confused as to who to vote for.”
But at a Mandel event near Cleveland on Thursday, Strongsville Republican Party campaign chairwoman Jeanine Hammack said Trump’s endorsement would “not at all” sway his vote.
“We love Trump. We always will,” she said, adding that she’s sure the former president “has his reasons” for choosing Vance, but that she knows Mandel better.
In Pennsylvania, Oz has been experiencing a similar bump since Trump’s surprise April 9 endorsement in his close race against former hedge fund CEO David McCormick. The week following Trump’s endorsement was Oz’s best digital fundraising week since launching his campaign late last year, with the campaign bringing in nearly three times as much money as the campaign. previous week, campaign manager Casey Contres said.
Some supporters admit Oz could still lose the May 17 primary with Trump’s backing, but say he likely couldn’t have won without it. His team shifted their advertising strategy for television and digital presentations to focus on the former president’s announcement.
“It’s a game-changer,” said John Fredericks, a radio host who had urged Trump to support the famed doctor.
“Trump’s endorsement gave people a chance to stop and think and say, ‘Wait a minute. I saw this guy on TV helping people for 30 years. Trump sees it too. And now I’m going to take a second look,” Fredericks said.
Oz acknowledged the impact during a virtual town hall Trump held Friday night to rally support for his candidate.
“Mr. President, there are a lot of voters who are passionate about you who said they came to see me because of your support,” Oz said, before asking Trump if he “would have the spirit of allaying people’s fears” attesting to Oz’s conservative credentials.
It was an acknowledgment that Trump’s endorsement of a man with little history with the Republican Party — let alone Pennsylvania, having lived in New Jersey for the past two decades — has troubled the public. party activists who aren’t sold on Oz and think it’s insufficiently conservative on issues like guns and abortion.
While some county party officials said the endorsement did not divide Republicans any more than they already had given the primary field of seven candidates, some county party officials pointed to a wave of angry calls.
“Conservative Trumpers are very upset with his endorsement, and they can’t understand it,” said Arnold McClure, chairman of the Republican Party in rural Huntingdon County, where Trump won 75% of the vote in 2020. Trump era is over in Pennsylvania because of his endorsement of Dr. Oz.
Colvin reported from New York and Levy from Harrisburg, Pa. AP video reporter Patrick Orsagos in Ohio contributed to this report.