Former President Donald Trump on Saturday touted Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance in a campaign-style rally in Ohio weeks ahead of the state’s highly competitive May 3 GOP primary.
Mr. Trump’s recent endorsement of Mr. Vance, who in 2016 described himself as a “Never Trump guy” has exposed fissures within the Ohio GOP with the Trump-aligned Club for Growth pledging to back former state treasurer Josh Mandel for the Ohio Senate seat.
But on Saturday, Mr. Trump stood firmly behind Mr. Vance and assured his audience that he would be part of a Republican wave elected to Congress in this year’s primaries.
“Seven months from now the people of Ohio are going to vote to fire the radical left Democrats,” Mr. Trump told the crowd. “You’re going to elect an incredible slate of true America first Republicans to Congress, and we’re going to send J.D. Vance to the United States Senate.
Past transgressions between Trump and Vance appeared to be long gone at Saturday’s rally, with Mr. Vance praising the former president’s tough on China and pro-life policies ahead of Mr. Trump’s keynote.
“I’m so honored to be here at this Trump rally,” Mr. Vance said. “We’re excited to see big man, the 45th President of the United States and the 47th President of the United States tonight.”
Mr. Vance also decried Washington’s “corruption” which he said led to the FBI obtaining an “illegal wiretap” on the Trump campaign and to protesters the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol being detained unconstitutionally.
“I’m honored, honored to have the endorsement of Donald J. Trump for my Senate candidacy in Ohio,” Mr. Vance said. “The President loves this state. This state loves the president and on May 3, vote JD Vance for US Senate ladies and gentlemen, because I am the American first candidate.”
Mr. Vance was a staunch critic of Mr. Trump in the lead-up to the 2016 election, slamming Mr. Trump as an “idiot.” The Yale Law graduate floated the idea of voting for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 runoff against Mr. Trump.
More recently, Mr. Vance has walked back the remarks during his prime-time cable news appearances and town halls as a Senate candidate.
Mr. Trump shrugged it off Saturday, saying many of the candidates he has endorsed have, at one time or another, had less than flattering things to say.
“If I went by that standard, I don’t think I would have endorsed anybody in the country,” he said. “A lot of them said some really bad things. But ultimately, I put that aside. And by the way, he’s been incredible the last long period of time.”
Mr. Trump said the final decision was not easy when he announced the endorsement last week. But said Mr. Vance was best positioned to take on the state’s Democratic front-runner, Rep. Tim Ryan, in the fall.
He said it was “all about winning.”
The endorsement by Trump, who continues to maintain significant pull within the Republican Party, came as a blow to the top Republican contenders in the field including former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken, former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel and investment banker Mike Gibbs.
Several Republican leaders in Ohio mounted a last-ditch effort to urge Mr. Trump against endorsing Mr. Vance, citing his past disparaging comments and for his threats to support Mrs. Clinton.
And with just weeks remaining until the primary, Mr. Trump’s endorsement has added another level of contention in the field.
Joe Kildea, a Club for Growth spokesperson, said told the Associated Press that the group will increase its spending in the coming days to air even more anti-Vance ads.
Another group backing Mr. Mandel, Ohio Value Voters, called for a boycott of Saturday’s rally.
“I have to do what I have to do,” Mr. Trump told the crowd Saturday. “We have to pick somebody that can win.”
– This story includes wire reporting.
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