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UPDATE: On April 15, former President Donald Trump endorsed J.D. Vance in the Republican primary in Ohio's Senate race.
Incumbent Republican Rob Portman is retiring, which means an Ohio seat is a pick-up opportunity for Democrats — though a highly challenging one. In both 2016 and 2020, Donald Trump carried the state by about eight points. In the past three statewide midterm elections, Republicans have won 16 out of 17 races. Two of the leading election handicappers, UVA’s Center for Politics and the Cook Political Report, rate the Ohio Senate contest as Lean Republican.
There are five major contenders on the Republican side; four support Trump — Josh Mandel, Mike Gibbons, JD Vance and Jane Timken. The fifth, state Sen. Matt Dolan, has conservative policy positions, but touts articles that note he has not courted Trump’s support. Trump has yet to make an endorsement; and it remains to be seen how much weight it might carry.
There are two major candidates on the Democratic side — U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, and consumer protection attorney Morgan Harper. Ryan has broad support from the Democratic establishment, in part because he represents a working-class district like those elsewhere in Ohio that have been slipping away from Democrats; Harper from Ohio’s largest city, Columbus, presents a challenge from the progressive wing of the party.
PolitiFact plans to fact-check candidates for U.S. Senate in multiple key states, including Ohio. If you spot a claim in an ad, speech, debate or on social media that you think may warrant a fact-check, email us at [email protected]
Josh Mandel: Campaign website
Biography: Mandel brings statewide name recognition, having twice won election for state treasurer. He also served two terms as a state representative. This is his second attempt at a U.S. Senate seat. In 2012, he ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown. Over the years, Mandel has moved increasingly to the right and adopted more confrontational language.
Core policies: Mandel has put his allegiance to Trump at the center of his campaign. "Fighting for President Trump’s America First agenda," leads on his campaign’s issues page. He says the country should "immediately finish President Trump’s border wall," and has dubbed his bid as a "fight for faith and freedom."
Mandel highlights that he was the first statewide official to back a bill banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected, and touts his opposition to critical race theory in the classroom. (While some teachers have units on race, this theory isn’t taught in the classroom. As we’ll see, other candidates have inflated threats regarding it.)
He said at an October debate that he believes the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Key backers: The conservative Super PACs USA Freedom Fund and Club for Growth Action back Mandel. In October, the Club for Growth ran ads against competitor J.D. Vance, and in January, against Jane Timken. In both cases, the Club for Growth asserted that they failed to show true support for Trump.
Mike Gibbons: Campaign website
Biography: A businessman and investment banker, Gibbons was Trump’s Ohio finance committee co-chair in 2016. Gibbons ran for theU.S. Senate in 2018, but lost the primary to Trump-backed candidate Rep. Jim Renacci, who in turn lost to Brown.
Core policies: Gibbons gives a strong nod to Trump, vowing to continue to "build the wall that was started under President Trump." Emphasizinghis business background, he says he would close tax loopholes that benefit special interests and create a tax credit for each new job a company adds.
Gibbons says he would end late-term abortion and confirm "originalist justices to the Supreme Court who could overturn Roe v. Wade." Like Mandel, he touts his rejection of critical race theory,.
In an ad, he attacked Vance and Timken for failing to fully back Trump, calling himself "Trump tough."
Key backers: Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has endorsed Gibbons.
J.D. Vance: Campaign website
Biography: Vance first gained widespread attention as the author of the best-selling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy", and as a venture capitalist. In 2016, he opposed Trump, saying in an interview, that "I’m a Never-Trump guy." GOP opponents have highlighted that and other past criticisms of Trump in TV ads. . Vance has since said he was wrong about Trump, and that he regrets it.
"I think he was a good president, I think he made a lot of good decisions for people, and I think he took a lot of flak," Vance told Fox News on July 5, 2021.
His website notes that he is "a fixture" on Fox News and Newsmax, favored media outlets of the GOP base.
Core policies: Vance leans heavily on themes of a hollowed-out working class, and casts them as part of a broader social struggle.
"The Left has decided to wage a culture war against traditional values," Vance said. "They take hundreds of billions of American tax dollars and send it to universities that teach that America is an evil, racist nation, which is all critical race theory is."
Vance embraces Trump’s tariffs on China and would raise taxes on companies that send jobs overseas. "If these companies are going to wage war on America, it’s time America wages war on them," he said.
He would end abortion (including for cases of rape or incest), and allow immigration based on work skills. Vance has spoken out against gun control, and has said, inaccurately, that the government is illegally tracking gun sales.
Key backers: Former President Donald Trump endorsed Vance. Vance once worked with and now benefits from billionaire and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Thiel put $10 million into a Super PAC to promote Vance. Thiel also brokered a meeting between Vance and Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the most outspoken and combative figures in the House Republican Conference, has endorsed Vance.
Matt Dolan: Campaign website
Biography: Currently, Dolan is a state senator and chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He has been an assistant state attorney general and a county prosecutor. After Dolan announced, Trump said, "I know of at least one person in the race who I won’t be endorsing."
On the anniversary of the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, Dolan called it "an attack on American democracy, our Constitution and the rule of law that must not be minimized, normalized or explained away." Dolan went on to chastise his primary opponents who "continue to say they would have objected to certifying the 2020 election."
Dolan asks voters to see the race as about "Ohio, and Ohio only," and highlights the practical benefits he has brought to Ohioans in his time at the state House.
Core policies: Dolan emphasizes a traditional Republican platform of promoting growth through lower taxes and less regulation, coupled with good schools and worker training. The issues section of his website is more about what he has done than what he will do. He highlights the individual tax cuts that came in the most recent state budget, along with spending $95 million in workforce training funds over the past five years.
Dolan touts his votes against abortion, and in favor of gun rights, highlighting a law that privileges state gun regulations over local restrictions. He opposes immigration amnesty and talks about his work to increase funding for law enforcement.
Key backers: Dolan has yet to score a high-profile endorsement. He comes from a billionaire family and has put over $10 million of his own money into his campaign.
Jane Timken: Campaign website
Biography: Timken is a lawyer who spent years as a party activist and became state GOP party chair in 2017 while Trump was president. She is married to the former president of Ohio-based TimkenSteel, one of the nation’s largest steelmakers. On her website, she boasts that she "completely transformed the party into a well-oiled machine that won conservative victories and advanced an America First agenda at every level."
Timken’s main political liability is her past praise for fellow Ohio Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who voted to impeach Trump for the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and who later announced that he’d be retiring.
When Timken announced her Senate run two weeks later, she criticized Gonzalez for his vote, but her opponents have used her previous words against her.
Core policies: Timken supported Trump and his policies when he was president, and her campaign features Trump at a number of turns.
"I will fight to finish President Trump’s wall," Timken said. "I will re-institute the Remain in Mexico policy, deport criminal illegal aliens, vote against amnesty, and end catch and release."
She promised to oppose tax increases and "will fight to return to the historic Trump-era tax cuts that unleashed America’s economic engine."
Timken said the Ohio election, which Trump won, was secure, but "there was unquestionably voter fraud in the 2020 election."
Key backers: Timken received the coveted endorsement of retiring Sen. Portman. She also has the backing of former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
Tim Ryan: Campaign website
Biography: Ryan has represented much of the industrial cities of Akron, Warren and Youngstown in Congress since 2003. In 2016, he launched an unsuccessful bid to unseat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He briefly ran for president in 2020. He is a member of the House Appropriations committee.
Core policies: Ryan has opposed free-trade agreements that other Democrats have supported. On his website, he talks about opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and his efforts to renegotiate NAFTA before Trump delivered a new agreement.
He touts his work with Portman and Brown – one of the few Ohio Democrats to win statewide in recent years – to include buy-American provisions into the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Ryan links Ohio-based manufacturing to climate change goals, seeking to "supply the world with American-made wind turbines, solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles, and everything else we’ll need to power the clean energy economy."
He supports a $15 minimum wage, stronger legal protections for workers who want to join unions, and an expansion of affordable child care. On health care, he supports incentives to attract providers to rural areas, allowing Medicare to negotiate on prescription drug prices, and opening the program to people as young as 50 if they want to buy in.
Key backers: Ryan enjoys broad union support and from national Democrats. He has been an effective fundraiser, bringing in nearly $3 million in the last quarter of 2021.
Morgan Harper: Campaign website
Biography: Harper has not held elected office, but as a consumer protection lawyer, she served as a senior adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama administration. During the pandemic, she co-founded Columbus Stand Up, a community effort to distribute masks, get people to vaccination sites and drive voters to the polls in the 2020 election. Harper challenged Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty in a special election primary in 2020 and lost by about 35 points.
Core policies: Harper would close tax loopholes, avoid foreign wars and prioritize federal spending to create jobs. She would "jump start" clean energy manufacturing, retrofit homes for energy efficiency, and invest in the charging stations and power grid to support wide use of electric vehicles.
Harper backs Medicare for All and universal free community college and trade schools. On crime, she would aim to get guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but also addresst what she calls the "root cause" of violence, with investments in schools, mental health, and job opportunities.
Harper would vote to pass the voting rights legislation that failed in the Senate. She is firmly pro-abortion rights.
Key backers: In her 2020 primary race, Harper was backed by two progressive groups, Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party.
Josh Mandel: Campaign website, accessed Feb. 16, 2022
Mike Gibbons: Campaign website, accessed Feb. 16, 2022
JD Vance: Campaign website, accessed Feb. 16, 2022
Matt Dolan: Campaign website, accessed Feb. 16, 2022
Jane Timken: Campaign website, accessed Feb. 16, 2022
Tim Ryan: Campaign website, accessed Feb. 16, 2022
Morgan Harper: Campaign website, accessed Feb. 16, 2022
Newsweek, Josh Mandel, Ohio Senate Candidate, Believes 2020 Election Stolen From Donald Trump, Oct. 25, 2021
NBC News, Club for Growth Action launches ad attacking Timken in Ohio GOP Senate primary, Jan. 22, 2022
Statehouse News Bureau, Timken Joins US Senate Race, As Both Candidates Fight For Pro-Trump Label, Feb. 18, 2021
Cleveland Plain Dealer, Will the Ohio GOP move on from Trump?, Feb. 1, 2021 via Nexis
Washington Post, Tim Ryan’s plea to Ohio’s White working class: Trust Democrats again, Jan. 30, 2022
Ohio Secretary of State, Election results, accessed Feb. 16, 2022
Ohio Secretary of State, Registered voters, accessed Feb. 16, 2022
Cook Political Report, 2022 Senate races, Nov. 19, 2021
UVA Center for Politics, 2022 Senate races, Nov. 3, 2021
Wall Street Journal, How Tight Is Trump’s Grip on the GOP? Take a Look at the Ohio Senate Primary, Oct. 6, 2021
Spectrum News 1, Tim Ryan raises $2.9 million for Ohio Senate bid in fourth quarter, Jan. 7, 2022
WKYC, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Jane Timken says widespread voter fraud 'swept under the bus', Feb. 18, 2021
Dolan for Senate, Campaign video, Jan. 9, 2022
Politico, J.D. Vance says he regrets since-deleted tweets criticizing Trump, July 5, 2021
Politico, ‘My god what an idiot’: J.D. Vance gets whacked for past Trump comments, Oct. 23, 2021
MIke Gibbons for Senate, Wimps, Feb. 16, 2022
PolitiFact, How GOP Senate resolution condemning critical race theory distorts the facts, June 16, 2021
PolitiFact, What is critical race theory, and why are conservatives blocking it?, March 24, 2021
PolitiFact, Critical race theory isn’t in Virginia’s curriculum, Nov. 16, 2021
Washington Post, Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance argues against need for rape and incest exceptions in abortion laws, Sept. 24, 2021
Open Secrets, Tim Ryan, accessed Feb. 17, 2022
Photo credit: Jimmy Emerson, via Flickr Creative Commons License