Mike Carey, a relatively unknown coal lobbyist endorsed by former President Donald Trump, won a crowded Republican primary Tuesday in the special election for Ohio’s 15th District, making him the heavy favorite to succeed former GOP Rep. Steve Stivers in November.
Carey was leading an 11-candidate field with 36 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race at 9:05 p.m. Eastern time. State Sen. Bob Peterson, former state Rep. Ron Hood and state Rep. Jeff LaRe trailed him with vote percentages ranging from 12 percent to 14 percent.
Carey’s win came as vindication for Trump after Republican Jake Ellzey defeated the candidate Trump backed in a Texas special election last week, raising questions about the former president’s ability to recognize winning candidates and the power of his endorsement in the 2022 midterms.
In the Democratic primary, state Rep. Allison Russo defeated retired U.S. Army Col. Greg Betts. She had 84 percent of the vote when the AP called the race at 8:47 p.m. Carey will be the heavy favorite against Russo in a district that backed Trump by 14 points and Stivers by 27 points last fall.
Trump reacted to the GOP primary with a news release congratulating Carey on his "Big numbers!" and thanking "Ohio and all of our wonderful American patriots."
Carey said in a statement that the primary sent "a clear message to the nation that President Donald Trump is, without a doubt, the leader of our party."
Carey, a friend of Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, billed himself as a “conservative outsider,” setting himself apart in a field that included an assortment of wealthy and well-connected political operatives, several of whom had high-profile backers of their own.
But in his campaign, he left no question about the one connection that truly mattered. He introduced himself with a video on his campaign website that started with the declaration: “Mike Carey, endorsed by Donald Trump.” And he pledged to join Trump’s most fervent backers on the Hill.
Stivers, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who had a reputation for sometimes working with Democrats, resigned in May to take a job with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
Carey is a lobbyist for American Consolidated Natural Resources and chairs the Ohio Coal Association. He told the AP that he convinced Trump to support him after cornering him during a meeting that was supposed to be a photo op.
“I said, ‘Listen, Mr. President, you’ve been somebody that supported a lot of political candidates over the course of your lifetime, and many of them let you down.’ I said, ‘I’m kind of in the same boat — I mean, on a much smaller scale,’” Carey told the outlet. “After about an hour and 20 minutes, he said, ‘I’m all in. I’m going to endorse you and do whatever it takes to get you over the finish line.’”
Carey was the top fundraiser in the race, raking in $460,000 by mid-July, according to Federal Election Commission records. Other top contenders included golf club owner Tom Hwang, who loaned his campaign $575,000; Peterson, who supplemented the $455,000 he raised with a $100,000 loan; and LaRe, whom Stivers endorsed shortly after announcing his resignation.
LaRe’s $239,000 in receipts put him in the middle of the fundraising pack, but Stivers used his leftover campaign funds on TV and radio ads backing him. FEC disclosures filed through Tuesday showed $61,000 in spending, but the tracking firm Medium Buying put his spending at $300,000.
In one of those calls, on July 20, Trump complained that other candidates were trying to suggest they also had his endorsement.
“He’s the only candidate in the race that has my complete and total endorsement,” Trump said of Carey on the call, according to Bloomberg News. “I know Mike Carey, he’s a true outsider, he’s a true fighter, he’s a warrior, and he’s going to win.”
Trump’s Make America Great Again PAC spent a total of $414,000 supporting Carey, including $348,000 worth of advertising it bought the day of Wright’s loss in Texas, CNBC reported.
Other outside groups also spent heavily on the race. Hood, who raised only $154,000, was endorsed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and benefited from $637,000 in spending from the Protect Freedom PAC, which is affiliated with Paul.
The anti-tax Club for Growth, which reportedly took the blame from Trump’s allies after it helped convince him to back Wright in Texas, spent $320,000 opposing state Sen. Stephanie Kunze, LaRe and Peterson. And Conservative Outsider PAC, which is funded partly by the club, spent an additional $232,000 opposing Carey and $17,000 supporting Hood.