The two early favorites for the 2022 GOP nomination for U.S. Senate – former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken and former state treasurer Josh Mandel – have been trying to one-up each other lately to prove who has the most undying loyalty to former President Donald Trump.
Both are loudly and unabashedly vowing, at every opportunity, to carry on the Trump mission of Making America Great Again.
They've done everything short of posing for campaign photos in red MAGA hats. And that may not be too far away.
On one hand, they can hardly be blamed.
Trump did, after all, win Ohio by 8 percentage points in two consecutive presidential elections; and remains the dominant, over-arching force in Ohio Republican politics.
Complete, utter fealty to Trump may indeed be the only way to win a GOP primary for a seat being given up by Rob Portman, who announced last month that he would not seek a third term in the Senate next year.
Whether it would be a good general election strategy or not remains to be seen.
Not all Ohioans are enamored of Trump; and even some Republicans are ready to move on from the twice-impeached former president and his fire-breathing rhetoric.
After all, Ohio's Warren G. Harding – who turned out to be a pretty lousy president – campaigned in 1920 on the theme of a "a return to normalcy." Normalcy has been an elusive commodity in politics for the past four years.
But, apparently, both Timken and Mandel believe they can worry about the general election later.
They're wasting no time in courting the Trump vote within the Ohio GOP.
Mandel, the former state treasurer, comes out of hiding every few years to run for the U.S. Senate.
He was the GOP nominee in 2012 and had a respectable showing against incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown at a time when Barack Obama was winning Ohio in his re-election bid.
Mandel returned in 2017 to run a short-lived campaign for the GOP nomination to take on Brown again. But he pulled out of the race in January 2018, citing family health reasons.
He was primed and ready to go when Portman announced he wouldn't run for re-election, with over $4 million sitting in his campaign. Mandel was just waiting for the opportunity and he pounced on it.
His Twitter account has been on fire lately with odes to Trump.
"Josh Mandel has described himself as 'President Trump's number one ally in Ohio," he proclaimed the other day.
On Valentine's Day, he took a tough-guy approach: "Since we announced for the U.S. Senate we've been proud to be bashed by the out-of-touch elites at Washington Post, Plain Dealer & others. When the elites attack & cancel us we know our Conservative, pro-Trump, anti-establishment movement is growing."
And just yesterday: "I'm going to Washington to advance the Trump America First Agenda."
In announcing his candidacy, Mandel called the recent impeachment trial "a complete sham" which "got my blood boiling to the point where I decided to run for the United States Senate."
Late on Wednesday, Timken announced what everyone has been expecting - that she will be a candidate for the Senate seat. She said she would gladly accept Trump's endorsement if offered.
She has been matching Mandel tweet for tweet since resigning as Ohio Republican Party chair on Feb. 5.
In January, Timken said that the Republican Party is "more than one person, one candidate or one government official."
By the time she issued her resignation letter Feb. 5, Timken was singing a different tune, saying it was "an honor to stand with President Trump to make our nation great."
"President Trump is the leader of our party and I am incredibly excited to continue to fight for him and the America First agenda in a new capacity moving forward,'' Timken wrote in her resignation letter, though she has yet to formally announce her Senate candidacy.
Her Valentine's Day tweet was directed at Ohio's Trump voters: "The media wants you to think you are wrong for embracing President Trump. But remember – he won Ohio by 8 points in back-to-back elections. Ohioans are for Trump."
Mack Mariani, professor of political science at Xavier University, said it's no surprise that Timken and Mandel are cozying up to Trump for the purposes of a 2022 GOP primary.
"You have to win the Republican primary first before you can win a Senate seat,'' Mariani said. "You have to deal with one election at a time. You can worry about the general election later."
But, Mariani said, sometimes candidates "push themselves too far one way or the other in a primary" and then have trouble finding their way back to the center in a general election.
The events of Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol may have changed the equation somewhat. On that day, a mob of pro-Trump thugs staged a violent, deadly riot by forcing their way into the Capitol, causing members of Congress from both parties and their staffs to fear for their lives.
Trump may have been acquitted in a Senate trial of a charge of inciting that riot, but clearly even many Republicans believe that Trump acted irresponsibly.
"January 6th changed things," Mariani said. "There's no question that the Trump brand was tarnished that day."
And if other GOP candidates get into the race – Republicans who are not so closely tied to Trump – the Trump vote in Ohio could be split.
We will see if, by next spring, Trump will have the same hold on Ohio GOP voters that he appears to have today.
Either way, it may not matter much in a general election.
"The next election may not be about Trump,'' Mariani said. "It will be more about the guy in charge now and how he is doing."