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Politics
Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Is Trump about to wade into Ohio's Republican U.S. Senate primary?

Supporters cheer on former President Donald Trump after he spoke at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds, June 26, 2021, in Wellington, Ohio.
Tony Dejak
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AP
Supporters cheer on former President Donald Trump after he spoke at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds, June 26, 2021, in Wellington, Ohio.

Is Donald Trump about to wade into Ohio's Republican U.S. Senate primary?

There are a bunch of GOP candidates who have spent a year or more bowing and scraping before the former president who are on pins and needles waiting to find out.

Who wins the Trump Sweepstakes? Or does the man who hijacked the Republican Party and refuses to let it go just take a pass on Ohio?

The Delaware County Republican Party says on its Facebook page that Trump is coming to the county fairgrounds for a rally later this month — only days before Ohio's May 3 primary election.

But the post, which is accompanied by a rather hyperbolic photoshopped picture of Trump, dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier, doesn't say on what day or what time their favorite president will appear, just a message to stay tuned.

But Cleveland.com reported Wednesday afternoon that the rally will begin at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 23, with Trump speaking about 7 p.m.

Trump's popularity may be eroding nationally, but he is still King of the Hill to a vast majority of Ohio GOP voters. An endorsement from Trump, even at the 11th hour, might be enough to put one of the GOP Senate candidates over the top.

Mike Gibbons, Josh Mandel, Jane Timken, and J.D. Vance all want it badly. Only Matt Dolan, the state senator from Geauga County, hasn’t' played the grovel-before-Trump game and took himself out of the competition from the start.

The others spend an inordinate amount of time parroting the falsehood the 2020 election was somehow "stolen" from Donald Trump, without offering a shred of credible evidence to back up the claim.

But will he give his blessing to one of the four?

And if he does, will it make a difference?

Trump has endorsed candidates at all levels of government in multiple states this year; and those candidates have a mixed record of success.

Trump's candidates did pretty well in Texas. But in Georgia, where Trump endorsed former senator David Perdue over Gov. Brian Kemp, Kemp is comfortably in the lead, according to the polls. In Pennsylvania, a lot of Republican Party leaders — including some of Trump's most ardent supporters — are scratching their heads over Trump's endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz, the TV personality.

In Ohio, one factor that might lessen the impact of Trump's endorsement is the fact that Ohio is well into its 28-day early voting period. While polling shows a substantial number of GOP primary voters still undecided, multi-million TV ad campaigns by all five major Senate candidates have made them quite well-known. You can't turn on a TV in Ohio for more than a half-hour without seeing ads for one or more of the candidates.

People either like them or they don't. A Trump endorsement might not have much of an impact on that.

Mark R. Weaver, a longtime Ohio-based Republican campaign strategist, spoke to me before news of the Trump rally, but he has doubts about the impact of a Trump endorsement.

"Since votes are already being cast it would look like Trump won't endorse,'' Weaver said. "And if he does, it would have a diminished effect."

David B. Cohen, professor at the University of Akron's Bliss Institute for Applied Politics, saw the news of the Trump rally in Delaware County and saw the handwriting on the wall.

"I have a gut feeling Trump is going to endorse,'' Cohen said. "I don't see him sitting out this primary without putting his thumb on the scale.

"If he gets it wrong, I don't think he'll care about looking stupid,'' Cohen said. "He will just change his story. He's very good at that sort of thing."

Cohen thinks that if Trump endorses, it would likely be Gibbons, the very wealth investment banker from the Cleveland area.

Mike Gibbons speaks to supporters as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., looks on during a campaign rally in Maineville, Ohio, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.
Jeff Dean
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AP
Mike Gibbons, a Republican Senate candidate for Ohio, speaks to supporters as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., looks on during a campaign rally in Maineville, Ohio, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.

"He doesn't have the baggage of having said anything bad about Trump; and, like Trump, he is a businessman,'' Cohen said. "He seems to be a good match."

He may be right. All the other contenders seem to have their problems with Trump.

Vance, the author-turned-venture-capitalist, probably disqualified himself back in 2016 when he was doing interviews about his book Hillbilly Elegy and spoke of Trump disparagingly, calling then-candidate Trump an "idiot" and "reprehensible," among other things.

He's spent a lot of time in the intervening years saying he misjudged Trump and praising him to the heavens as a great leader and savior of the common folk. But Trump never forgets a slight, and doesn’t acknowledge apologies, so I think Vance can forget about it.

Timken? Well, Trump liked her well enough when she was helping him raise money for the 2016 campaign — so much so that he backed her candidacy for Ohio Republican Party chair over the incumbent, Matt Borges, who was an ally of Trump's arch-enemy, former governor John Kasich.

jane timken
Julie Carr Smyth
/
AP
Then-Ohio Republican Chairwoman Jane Timken files paperwork for President Donald Trump's re-election bid in Ohio at the secretary of state's office in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019.

But Timken once said kind words about U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, the northeast Ohio Republican who voted for Trump's impeachment in January 2021. Timken reversed course and condemned Gonzalez once it became clear that Trump was hell-bent on destroying Gonzalez' promising political career — which, in fact, he did.

As with Vance, Trump does not forget or forgive any Republican who has a thought that is not his own. That may be enough to disqualify Timken from the sweepstakes.

Then there is Josh Mandel, the combative ex-state treasurer and failed Senate candidate in 2012. Word from the Trump camp is that, in the case of Mandel, Trump just doesn't like the guy.

Maybe Cohen is right. Maybe Gibbons is the logical choice.

Or maybe Trump will come to Delaware County and talk about nothing but how the election was stolen from him and how windmills cause cancer.

Then, with their bubbles having been burst, the candidates might have to talk about something other than Trump for a change.