Trump's Endorsement Helps J.D. Vance Win Ohio's GOP Senate Primary Race : The NPR Politics Podcast The primary race illustrated the state's dramatic conservative turn in recent years. If Vance bests Democrat Tim Ryan in November, the 37 year-old would join a wave of young conservative lawmakers inspired by Trump who will help to cement the former president's political legacy in the decades to come.

This episode: White House correspondent Scott Detrow, congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh, and national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

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Trump's Endorsement Helps J.D. Vance Win Ohio's GOP Senate Primary Race

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MILES: Hi. This is Miles (ph), a guest entertainer on a cruise ship in quarantine due to getting the 'rona for the first time. This podcast was recorded at...


What a chipper and optimistic tone for that situation. It is 1:07 Eastern on Wednesday, May 4.

MILES: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but one thing's for sure...

(Singing) I am hoping by the time you hear this, they have set me free.

Enjoy the show.


DETROW: It's all about a positive attitude.


DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.

GONYEA: And I'm Don Gonyea, national political correspondent.

DETROW: Now, Don, you're in Cincinnati?


DETROW: You are legendary for the pillow forts you create when you're broadcasting from the road. And I am assuming, and don't correct me if I'm wrong, that today, instead of pillows, you just have vats of Skyline Chili surrounding you right now.

GONYEA: The cheese is even better than down pillows is what I can tell you.


DETROW: Acoustics are wonderful. Well, speaking of Ohio...


J D VANCE: They wanted to write a story that this campaign would be the death of Donald Trump's America First agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, it ain't the death of the America First agenda.


TIM RYAN: We have to love each other. We have to care about each other. We have to see the best in each other. We have to forgive each other. We have to show some grace, and we have to put workers front and center in the economy in the United States of America, not the hedge funds, not the banks.

DETROW: That was Ohio Republican J.D. Vance and Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan, each speaking to their supporters after winning their party primaries last night. They will face each other this fall in Ohio Senate race. Don, Deirdre, let's start here specifically on the Republican side because J.D. Vance saw a huge uptick in support after Donald Trump endorsed him just a few weeks ago. Trump continues to reshape the party in his image, even after losing the presidential election. And, Don, to me, it is not just the results that show how powerful Trump remains in the Republican Party. It is the fact that J.D. Vance completely rebooted his personality into the image of Trump to win to begin with.

GONYEA: It's fascinating. He was, in 2016, a self-identified member of the Never Trump class. He said all sorts of negative things about Trump that year, scathing things. But Trump wins in 2016. Gradually, J.D. Vance starts to come around, and by the time he announces his candidacy for the Senate, he was all in on everything Trump. And he has been just hardcore on the Trump economic line, on the Trump kind of U.S. isolationism line. And Trump had many options in this Republican primary in Ohio, but he rewarded J.D. Vance with his endorsement. And it does seem to have made a pretty big impact.

DETROW: He was trailing in the polls amid, you know, in a field of - a sea of wannabe Trump's, you know, to put it. There's really no other way to put it. He's trailing...


DETROW: ...In the polls because of skepticism from Trump supporters about that past. Trump endorse him. He ends up on top.

GONYEA: That's right. If you look at the polling averages, it's, you know, February - Vance, third place, a distant third place; March - Vance, third place; April - Vance, third place. Then, all of a sudden, he starts to climb just a little bit. And then he gets the Trump endorsement, and he's up in the top tier, at least at that point, and then pulled away. But not - it was not a runaway at all in the last week or so, except he topped 30%, the only candidate to do so in a crowded field and wins by about 10 points.

WALSH: The other thing in terms of watching for Trump's power - this is just a big month in terms of primaries in some of these big races, and I think we should just zoom out to remind the audience about the fact that the Senate is 50-50 split. And there's a bunch of places where Republicans are obviously trying to hold seats in places like Ohio, but also Democrats are trying to flip seats in places like Pennsylvania. So it's a big month to see how powerful Trump's endorsement is, but also just to think about how Ohio has really changed as a political state just in not that long of a time. It wasn't that long ago it was a pretty traditional, purple swing seat. You know, President Obama carried it in 2008, but in the last couple of election cycles, it's really skewed red.

DETROW: Still, Don, it seems like there was, among a lot of Democrats and among the still existent but smaller and smaller and smaller wing of the Republican Party that wants to move quickly away from Trump, there was a lot of, oh, he's lost his clout. His endorsed candidates aren't doing well. Maybe it's not as much the party of Trump. It feels like, this morning, it's hard to make that argument.

GONYEA: Yeah. And again, Ohio is kind of its own place. And part of the reason Trump has done so well there and why his brand is so strong there is because there are so many former Democrats in places that Democrats used to carry quite handily - you know, Youngstown, the Mahoning Valley, even down into Appalachia. Those used to be Democratic counties as recently as when Barack Obama was on the ballot. And they have all flipped. And that is what has really shifted the balance in Ohio broadly, but especially within the Ohio Republican Party. And if you look at some of the classic Ohio Republican names of recent decades, you know, certainly John Kasich, George Voinovich, the governor and senator, and yesterday's...

WALSH: And Senator Rob Portman, that - this is...

GONYEA: And Senator Rob Portman.

WALSH: ...The battle to replace Portman, who's retiring, who's definitely viewed as an Establishment Republican.

GONYEA: You almost can't imagine Rob Portman getting elected today, and he was kind of one of the standard-bearers of Ohio Republicanism for so long. And now we've got J.D. Vance, who, you know, thanked Trump right off the top of his victory speech last night. But he also thanked Marjorie Taylor Greene. He also thanked Tucker Carlson, along with a long list of others. But that really just underscored what this party in Ohio looks like now.

DETROW: And, Deirdre, Don mentioned him. Let's talk about Tim Ryan for a minute. You and I covered him when he tried and failed to oust Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. I then covered him when he tried and failed to run for president of the United States. All along, though, he has been delivering this message that the Democratic Party needs to recalibrate the way it talks to white, working-class voters, the exact people Don's talking about who have fled the party. Now he gets the chance to make that case, but he's going to make that case in a really tough year for Democrats.

WALSH: Yeah. And I think a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill, you know, see him as trying to emulate the strategy of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. He has been sort of the exception to the rule in Ohio, which has trended red, but he succeeded and got reelected in 2018 as a sort of appealing-to-the-working-class message that Tim Ryan has been, you know, out there talking about since he got into the race. The problem for Tim Ryan is, you know, obviously the state has trended redder, but also it's, you know, reeling like a lot of other places in terms of the effects of inflation and the effects of supply chain problems. And you hear him talk about those issues in some of the ads that he's already started to, you know, put on social media in terms of reviving industrial plants across different parts of the state and trying to remind those voters that, you know, he'll be the candidate to fight for their interests in Washington and try to paint J.D. Vance as sort of a carpetbagger who spent time in California and just sort of rediscovered his home state.

DETROW: All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we will talk about some of the other races that were decided last night.

We are back. And the Ohio Senate primary was not the only race on the ballot last night. Deirdre, what are some of the other races worth flagging?

WALSH: Well, there is a race in Indiana for a House seat. There's a freshman House Democrat, Frank Mrvan, who is running for a second term. And Republicans think that that's a competitive race. There was a crowded field of Republicans running to take him on in November, but the candidate who won out was Jennifer-Ruth Green. She is an African American woman with a military background. She was in the Air Force. And she is part of this sort of crop of candidates that Republicans are deliberately recruiting and highlighting and supporting that is part of a strategy that worked in 2020. You know, House Republicans said after the last election, where they actually picked up seats and it was sort of a surprise that they did as well as they did in that election, that the people who won were women, minorities and candidates with national security or military backgrounds. And they're rerunning that strategy.

In this case, Jennifer-Ruth Green also highlighted sort of her allegiance to Trump-style politics, and that helped her prevail. I've covered some other races around the country where they're highlighting candidates like this. And I think if they win, a lot of them are very young and sort of could reshape the face of the House Republican Conference - maybe not the politics and the allegiance to Trump, but in terms of the types of people that are coming to Washington, it could change what they look like.

DETROW: Yeah. I mean, you're just increasingly seeing the path toward Trumpism lasting a very long time and being a dominant force in Republican politics, no matter what happens to Donald Trump.

GONYEA: Maybe it's a little like, you know, Alex Keaton in the '80s being a - you know, a fanboy for Ronald Reagan.


GONYEA: And that kind of brought us a whole new generation of young conservatives. Well, this may be the Trumpian version of that.

DETROW: Alex J. Keaton is not a Trumpian character. We got to make that clear.


WALSH: That's a very different type of college Republican.

DETROW: For our much younger listeners, which is many of you, Alex P. Keaton is a preppy character played by Michael J. Fox pre-"Back To The Future." "Family Ties" is the show. Alex P. Keaton is the person being driven out of the party now.

GONYEA: Yeah. Well, his time has come and gone. But he sure liked Ronald Reagan in a way these folks sure, you know, admire and love and follow Donald Trump. And J.D. Vance is 37. And, I mean, you know, we're all assuming that Trump probably has some plans for 2024. But should J.D. Vance arrive in the Senate, it sure doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that he and Josh Hawley, Senator Hawley, who came and campaigned for him, won't suddenly be butting heads as they each try to be kind of the next generation of that, the next iteration of that.

DETROW: One key race that got a lot of attention, particularly among House progressives, was a rematch in the congressional race between incumbent Shontel Brown, who won a special election last year, and Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner. Brown defeated Turner.

WALSH: Yeah. That race really, again, like it did in the special election for the same seat, really split the House Democratic Caucus. The progressives, you know, a lot of the leaders of the so-called squad in the House, were actively helping - you know, trying to get Nina Turner over the line. But the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus and a lot of the top House Democratic leaders like Jim Clyburn, you know, said we tend to support incumbents. That's sort of been the way we do things in the House. And they felt that Shontel Brown had a record. She had served in the House since she got elected in the special election, and they felt it was their responsibility to help get her back to Washington again.

DETROW: All right, Don, you're out there in the world again, going from state to state. What are the next states you're traveling to? What are the next big primaries?

GONYEA: Well, in the next couple of weeks, we have the North Carolina primary and that big Pennsylvania primary. There are Trump-endorsed candidates in each of those Senate races. And I have to tell you, these are not five-person races the way we had it in Ohio, where the vote was really divided up and where 32% gets you a 10-point victory, as it did for J.D. Vance. So it's - it'll be another test of the Trump endorsement. And just because Ohio went the way it did - I mean, you know, we've been talking about how Ohio has become a really, really strong Trump place - Pennsylvania, not so much. So we'll be watching those two. And then the end of the month, another place where, at least as far as the polls are concerned, Trump endorsement in statewide races in Georgia don't really appear to be, you know, moving the needle in a big way. Again, being cautious at this point, so we'll be watching all of that very carefully. And that's all this month.

DETROW: All right. That is it for today. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.

GONYEA: And I'm Don Gonyea, national political correspondent.

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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