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U.S. Senate primary drilldown

Thanks to the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and a $15 million contribution from a benefactor to a super political action committee, J.D. Vance went from middle of the pack in the often-nasty Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Ohio to nominee.

Without Trump’s endorsement, Vance, an author and venture capitalist, would not have won. And without Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and Vance’s mentor, giving $15 million to Protect Ohio Values, a super PAC supporting the candidate, Trump wouldn’t have given Vance much consideration.

Thiel’s contribution was the largest amount ever given to help a single Senate campaign in history, according to Politico.

A day before the primary, Mike Gibbons, who finished fourth, told me Thiel essentially bought Trump’s endorsement for Vance. He said if Thiel could give that amount to Vance, “imagine how much he could put in Donald Trump’s campaign.”

For the longest time, former two-time state Treasurer Josh Mandel looked like the candidate to beat. Trump’s endorsement changed that.

Mandel finished in second place, 8.87 percentage points behind Vance.

Mandel won treasurer races in 2010 and 2014, lost a 2012 U.S. Senate race and bowed out of a 2018 Senate race.

Mandel is a polarizing figure in Republican politics, concerning numerous people. He’s also universally despised by Democrats, but several wanted him to win believing Mandel would be the easiest Republican for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan to beat in the general election.

While state Sen. Matt Dolan finished in third place, about 0.56 of a percent behind Mandel and spending about $10.6 million of his own money, he emerged as someone to watch if he should seek statewide office again.

Dolan was the only Republican in the race critical of Trump’s repeated false statements that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him.

Dolan’s showing indicates while Trump remains a very strong presence in Ohio and national politics, you don’t have to be his cheerleader to have a fighting chance — if you’ve got millions of dollars.

Gibbons, an investment banker who finished fourth in the Republican primary, spent more than $17 million of his personal wealth on this campaign.

The nonstop advertising for months by Gibbons looked like it could pay off, but like Mandel, his campaign fizzled.

Gibbons spent a jaw-dropping $138 out of his pocket for each vote he received.

Having also lost the 2018 Republican primary, Gibbons’ political career is over before he ever won an election.

As bad as Gibbons did, Jane Timken, a former Ohio Republican Party chairwoman who sought this seat and Trump’s endorsement, did worse.

Timken received a mere 5.88 percent of the vote, finishing closer to Neil Patel who was last in the seven-person race, with 0.93 percent of the vote, than she was to Gibbons, fourth with 11.65 percent.

This came even though she received the endorsement of outgoing U.S. Sen. Rob Portman. It shows how far Portman’s star has faded in Ohio among Republican voters.

On the Democratic side, Ryan, D-Howland, had the primary won since he first considered running — Jan. 25, 2021, the day Portman announced his retirement.

In a three-person race, Ryan received 69.71 percent of the vote and raised more money from donors than any candidate seeking office.

But it was less than what Thiel put into the super PAC supporting Vance. How will Ryan financially compete with a multibillionaire in the general election?

Ohio is a Republican state, so Ryan faces a monumental task.

The Republican primary attracted twice as many voters as the Democratic one.

The Mahoning Valley could play a key role in the election.

In the primary, Ryan had his highest percentages in Columbiana with 85.28, Mahoning with 84.73 and Trumbull with 83.12. Ryan has never represented bright red Columbiana in the U.S. House and will surely lose it big to Vance.

Ryan has seen his vote totals drop in Mahoning and Trumbull, losing the latter in the 2020 election, but voters there really backed him in the primary. He desperately needs to run up his numbers in the two counties if he’s to have a fighting chance.

Vance scored big victories in small, rural counties.

But among the most-populous counties in the state, his biggest wins were in Mahoning with 39.42 percent and Trumbull with 37.59 percent.

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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