The Buckeye State is the site of one of 2022’s most anticipated reality shows.
Five major Republicans are battling for the seat of retiring Sen. Rob Portman, a desirable nomination in a state trending red. In all likelihood, however, to win that prize they’ll have to first earn the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.
This isn’t just a clever metaphor, either, Trump seems to literally view this contest as a reality show. As Alex Isenstadt of Politico reported last March, four contenders in this race gathered at Trump’s Florida golf club to be interrogated by their host.
They were seated at a roundtable instead of a boardroom table, and there were no cameras, but aside from that it easily could’ve passed as an episode of “The Apprentice”. Just like on his old TV show, Trump threw out accusations against each contestant and let them battle each other for his approval.
Over the course of the last year, one of those candidates dropped out and a few more jumped in, but the essential reality stayed the same. Nearly all of them are seeking to win the Republican primary by winning the Trump primary.
That shouldn’t overshadow, though, the colorful field of candidates which likely contains a future U.S. Senator. So let’s take a look at the five major GOP contenders and where they currently stand in the race.
The mighty Dolan empire is most famous for leveraging control of New York’s cable business into ownership of the Knicks, Rangers and even Madison Square Garden. The Dolan family originated, however, out of Cleveland. Not only does Matt’s father own the Guardians (the local MLB team), but Matt himself has represented parts of Cuyahoga County in both the State Senate and the State House.
Dolan’s family wealth also means that he doesn’t have to seek out Donald Trump’s support, a reality that reportedly infuriates the former President. Like many of Trump’s Republican establishment foes, Dolan’s opposition’s been rare and quiet, yet nevertheless generates plenty of ire. To put it simply, a longshot win for Dolan would be a devastating loss for Trump.
According to his own internal polls, investment banker Mike Gibbons is leading the Republican field. While most other surveys show Josh Mandel out in front, the overall trend does indeed show Gibbons gaining ground. Gibbons might be profiting off a strong performance from his run for the 2018 nomination, when he took second place with almost a third of the vote.
To take the next step, and to get on Donald Trump’s radar, Gibbons is hiring two veterans of Trump’s 2020 team, including his Campaign Manager Bill Stepien. Gibbons also secured the support of Sen. Rand Paul of the neighboring state of Kentucky, likely in the hopes that Paul’s crusade against Dr. Fauci will earn Gibbons some support among the unvaccinated.
The former State Treasurer and State Rep. is hoping that the third time proves to be the charm. Mandel won the GOP Senate nomination back in 2012, losing by six points to Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. He attempted a rematch in 2018, but dropped out as his marriage was falling apart. Now, he’s all-in on winning Trump’s support and earning a spot in the upper chamber.
Mandel took to Trumpism with the zeal of a convert after Trump’s shocking 2016 upset win, adopting a scorched-Earth style that leaves some Republicans nervous. One local GOP strategist put it rather bluntly, telling The Hill “Some of the shit he says is just fucking ridiculous.” Despite that, or possibly because of it, Mandel is leading in most polls of the primary field so far.
The former Chair of the Ohio Republican Party found herself mostly on the defensive in that March 2021 meeting with Trump, as Mandel sought to show Trump he was a “killer” by taking her on. Timken, though, was hand-picked by Trump to chair the party and there was no indication that his faith in her was seriously fading.
Since she’s struggled to break from the pack in polling, Timken is reaching out for support from some prominent pro-Trump female voices in the party. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Trump 2016 Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway have all formally endorsed Timken. Altogether, while she’s got the wealth to stay in the race, it remains to be seen whether she’ll be able to make that jump to the top-tier.
The former Marine and venture capitalist is not only the final contender alphabetically, but also the highest-profile name in the field. Vance achieved notoriety when big-city liberals turned to his book “Hillbilly Elegy” for an explanation of the growing conservatism in working-class areas. Over the past four years, though, Vance underwent a transformation into a die-hard Trumper. There are numerous theories as to what happened: Maybe he bristled at being part of the liberal elite, maybe he decided to follow the lead of his mentor Peter Thiel, maybe he was just pissed that the movie adaptation of his book was so poorly received.
Whatever the reason, Vance went from Never-Trumper to desperate for Trump’s endorsement. The main problem, of course, is that Trump and all his supporters remember all of Vance’s various ant-Trump statements from 2016. Vance is going all-out to convince them that he’s a new man, but Trump’s been noncommittal and Vance continues to stagnate in the polls.
Regardless, Vance is still trying to make the sale. The candidate frequently appears on Fox News and recently welcomed a Super PAC that’s aiming to change his image with conservatives. Of all the candidates, Vance would definitely benefit the most from Trump’s support. Yet even Trump’s endorsement may not be enough, a prospect that could very well scare the former President away.
This race is sure to see some twists and turns in the months ahead, so we’ll be keeping an eye on it up through the May 3rd primary.