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Commentary: Ohio GOP Senate Candidates Can't Get The Time Of Day From Trump

Former President Donald Trump throws a "Save America" hat before speaking at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Wellington, Ohio.
Former President Donald Trump throws a "Save America" hat before speaking at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Wellington, Ohio.

You almost had to feel sorry for the four Republican candidates for Ohio's open U.S. Senate seat as they wandered around the Lorain County Fairgrounds Saturday as their lord and master, Donald Trump, largely ignored them as he recited his list of grievances with the world before a crowd of thousands, most of whom seem to believe he is still president.

Almost had to feel sorry.

Well, actually, you probably didn't have to feel sorry for them at all.

The four, former Ohio GOP chairwoman Jane Timken, former state treasurer Josh Mandel, and businessmen Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno, made their own bed; now they must lie in it.

In 91 minutes of a really angry speech, Trump barely mentioned them near the end of his bloviation. When he did, it was without the one thing the Senate candidates hoped and prayed they would hear – a personal, heartfelt endorsement from the 45th president of the United States.

All of them seem convinced that, in an Ohio GOP primary, Trump's blessing might be enough to push them to the top of the heap. Maybe they are right. Or not.

Trump conducted his own "straw poll" at the rally, shouting out the names of three of the four, he left out car dealer Moreno, and asking the crowd to holler for their favorite candidates.

After this brief and meaningless exercise, Mandel was out and about the fairgrounds, thumping his chest and claiming that his supporters were the loudest.

Well, there you have it. Maybe we should just skip the GOP Senate primary next Spring and let Republican voters just call the boards of elections and shout out their preferences for the Senate nomination. The one with the most leather-lunged supporters wins!

The fact is that neither Trump nor the people who came to the fairgrounds had any real interest in the Senate candidates, despite Timken's campaign flying a plane over the fairgrounds with the message "Ohio is Trump Country" and her campaign website address, and Gibbons holding a tailgate party at the entrance to the fairgrounds.

Nobody cared. Least of all Donald Trump.

"There's no strong reason for vengeance in Donald Trump when it comes to the Senate race," said David Niven, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. "If the Senate candidates went there looking for an endorsement, it wasn't going to happen.

"It's fascinating, the degree to which they are desperate for his approval," Niven said.

"This was like a nostalgia tour for the crowd," Niven said. "They wanted to hear Donald Trump's greatest hits and that's what they got."

While the declared Senate candidates were scrambling around the fairgrounds like chickens with their heads cut off, Trump was on stage looking for revenge.

The target of Trump's hatred is U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of northeast Ohio, who, in January, was one of 10 Republican congressmen from around the country to vote to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot where Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.

Gonzalez, the grandson of Cuban immigrants and former football player for the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Indianapolis Colts, had the unmitigated gall to vote his conscience on impeachment.

Trump has vowed to drive Gonzalez, whose resume makes him the perfect GOP candidate in northeast Ohio, heavy with Democrats, out of Congress. Trump has endorsed a former White House aide, Max Miller, who got to speak from the stage Saturday to a crowd made up mostly of people who can't vote for him.

As for Trump himself, he called Gonzalez "a grandstanding RINO (Republican In Name Only). A sellout, a fake Republican who is a disgrace to your state."

Niven said Trump is expending energy going after Gonzalez even though we don't know yet what redistricting could do to that district. It could disappear entirely. Ohio is going to lose a congressional district based on 2020 Census numbers.

Mack Mariani, professor of political science at Xavier University, said he doesn't expect Trump to get into the Senate race when the primary is still nearly a year away.

"If Trump ends up tipping his hand, he can be the kingmaker if he wants to be," Mariani said.

Then there is J.D. Vance. Vance, the conservative author of the best-selling book Hillbilly Elegy, was at the Trump rally Saturday, but in a low-key way. There is an assumption that Vance will announce his candidacy for the GOP senate nomination on Thursday, in Middletown.

"Vance doesn't have to talk about Trump all the time; all he needs to do is talk about the issues," Mariani said. "He's close to the Trump position on nearly everything."

To Niven, the fact that the Ohio GOP Senate candidates were running around the fairgrounds trying to attract attention to themselves while nationally known Trump acolytes like Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene shared the stage with Trump speaks volumes.

"Trump can't stand being in a picture where he is not the center of attention," Niven said. "This isn't his fight."

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU
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