WELLINGTON, Ohio — For three decades, Rob Portman checked all the boxes of a classic pro-business Ohio Republican: Senior positions in both Bush White Houses. Twelve years in the House. A short stint as a lobbyist. A dozen years in the Senate.
Until recently, Portman-style candidates typified the party in the state, fending off opposition from socially conservative or tea-party activists. No more. With Portman retiring, the fight to succeed him revolves around one question only: Which flavor of Trump is best?
Five of the six contenders in next May’s GOP primary offer slightly different variations on the former president’s persona to voters — as well as to Trump himself. All have made pilgrimages to his South Florida estate seeking an endorsement.
The lineup shows how former President Donald Trump has only enhanced his influence among Republicans in the eight months since he grudgingly left office, a few days before Portman said he wouldn’t seek re-election.
“‘I know of at least one person in the race who I won’t be endorsing.’”
— Donald Trump in apparent reference to a state senator and former prosecutor who has positioned himself as a traditional, rather than pro-Trump, Republican
The Ohio contest is one of a handful likely to determine control of the Senate, and what happens there could be a leading indicator of the viability of Trumpism without Trump on the ballot. The outcome will provide essential data points on Trump’s own decision about whether to run for president again in 2024 and what it will mean if he does.
Capitol Report (April 2021): Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan announces 2022 Senate run as Dems hope to flip open seat blue
Key Words (May 2021): Tim Ryan castigates House Republicans who voted against Jan. 6 commission: ‘Holy cow!’
“I’m watching Ohio very, very closely,” Trump said in an interview. “They’re all for Trump — it’s a wonderful thing.”
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