Over the river in Ohio, "Democrats don't know how to talk to rural America" mascot and now Republican Trump cultist and author JD Vance is running into his own ugly past, and it's leaving him stranded in the middle of the road where his fate is seemingly to get wrecked by oncoming traffic in the Ohio GOP primary in a few months.
Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance “needs a course correction ASAP” — and that’s according to the well-funded super PAC supporting him.
A 98-page PowerPoint presentation produced by Tony Fabrizio, who has been polling for the pro-Vance Protect Ohio Values super PAC since last year, paints a dire picture of the candidate’s prospects. According to the slide deck, Vance has seen a “precipitous decline” in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary since last fall, when a pair of outside groups backing a rival began a multimillion-dollar TV advertising blitz using five-year-old footage of Vance attacking former President Donald Trump.
“Driving his negatives is the perception that he is anti-Trump. This has only grown since” November, said the presentation, which is based on polling data of 800 likely primary voters conducted Jan. 18-20.
The Senate race in Ohio is a high-profile example of how Trump is dominating Republican down-ballot primaries, and how his support is seen as make-or-break for those seeking the party’s nomination. Vance refashioned himself as a Trump supporter long ago, but his past comments are sticking to him. Meanwhile, Republican candidates are welding themselves to the former president and aggressively seeking out his endorsement; last spring, a handful of the Ohio Republican candidates met with Trump for an “Apprentice”-style boardroom audition for his support.
Vance, a venture capitalist and the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” has been working to make inroads with both Trump supporters and Trump himself: Last year, Vance and his main financial benefactor, tech billionaire Peter Thiel, quietly met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida.
Fabrizio, who is also a longtime Trump pollster, wrote that Vance is “now underwater with strong Trump” supporters “and very conservative voters, groups needed to win a GOP primary.” He added that Vance’s “association as a Never Trumper has only grown since November” and that “being anti-Trump is the #1 reason voters do not like Vance.”
Several months out from the May 3 primary, the presentation says that “consideration of Vance has fallen most dramatically with those on the right: conservatives and strong approvers of Trump,” and that the “perception” of Vance “as a moderate or even as a liberal continues to steadily grow.”
“The groups where Vance has improved are those we don’t want him doing better with: Trump disapprovers and moderate/liberals,” Fabrizio wrote.
Vance’s decline follows a $2 million-plus TV ad campaign from the Club for Growth and USA Freedom Fund, outside groups that are backing Vance rival Josh Mandel, which have portrayed Vance as an anti-Trump figure. The commercials, which use footage from 2016, show Vance describing himself as a “Never Trump guy” and calling Trump an “idiot,” “noxious” and “offensive,” appear to have made a dent. According to the slide deck, “anti-Trump is by far the top thing the 50% of voters who have seen an ad about Vance remember.”
Still, the polling paints the picture of a close, crowded race. The survey shows Mandel, a former state treasurer who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2012, out ahead with 15 percent. He is followed closely in the results by self-funding investment banker Mike Gibbons, with 14 percent, former state GOP Chair Jane Timken with 13 percent, business owner Bernie Moreno with 11 percent, and Vance at 9 percent. (Moreno dropped out of the primary last week, several weeks after the poll was taken.)