JD Vance, the author and venture capitalist, has won the primary election to be the Republican candidate for the US Senate from Ohio, in a victory that underlined the continuing influence of the former president Donald Trump in the party.
With more than 95 per cent of the vote counted after polls closed on Tuesday, Vance was 10 points ahead of his closest rival Josh Mandel, who offered his concession and pledged to support his opponent in November’s midterm election.
The extremely tight race had been widely seen as a test of the power of Trump’s endorsement in swaying Republican voters. The former president took a risk backing Vance given that he had previously lagged some of the other candidates and lacked a background in politics.
The outcome is also a vindication of Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire who has emerged as a Republican kingmaker and poured millions of dollars into Vance’s campaign.
The Senate seat opened up last year when Rob Portman, the incumbent Republican senator, announced he would not seek re-election. Vance will face Tim Ryan, a longtime Democratic House representative from Ohio, who won his primary on Tuesday by a comfortable margin.
Jessica Taylor, an analyst at the Cook Political Report, said: “This is the first major race where Trump’s endorsement is on the line. He made a risky pick with JD Vance, and this is a test of whether his endorsement alone can turn a race.”
Vance, who criticised Trump in 2016 as an “idiot” and privately compared him to Adolf Hitler, spent the final days of the election campaign emphasising his credentials as the former president’s choice.
He appeared on the campaign trail alongside two of Trump’s most prominent and controversial supporters in Congress: Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has promoted conspiracy theories, and Matt Gaetz, who is being investigated for possible underage sex-trafficking.
Despite this, Trump’s support occasionally appeared to waver during the campaign. Last weekend, the former president stumbled over Vance’s name during a rally speech, telling supporters: “We’ve endorsed — JP, right? JD Mandel, and he’s doing great.”
Mandel had fought to claim the mantle as Trump’s natural political heir, telling Fox News on Monday: “There is no one that’s led on the America First policies in Ohio like I have.”
Matt Dolan, a state senator who came third, was the only Republican in the race to distance himself from the former president. Dolan refused to support Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
Three weeks ago Dolan was polling at just 6 per cent, but a late surge and a strong showing in suburban Ohio put him narrowly behind Mandel.