Early primaries show Trump’s sway holding in congressional races

Nominees include veteran who funded trip to 'Stop the Steal' rally

Voting stickers for voters who have cast their ballots during the May 3 primary are on a table in Lordstown, Ohio.  (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Voting stickers for voters who have cast their ballots during the May 3 primary are on a table in Lordstown, Ohio. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Posted May 4, 2022 at 7:09am

The hold that former President Donald Trump has over the GOP was put to the test Tuesday in the first of a series of weekly primaries in Ohio and Indiana, with results that showed he is still very much a kingmaker, and a potential liability. 

In Ohio’s Republican Senate primary, “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance came out ahead after Trump’s late endorsement catapulted him to the top of a crowded field. 

But in the state’s 9th House District, which the GOP sees as one of its best pickup opportunities in November, far-right Air Force veteran J.R. Majewski won the nomination to challenge 20-term Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur with the support of a pro-Trump outside group, cueing attacks from Democrats who see him as a bad match for the district — even after its lines were redrawn to favor Republicans. 

They'll also settle the matchups for races in the fall that will decide control of the House and here are some of the most notable results from in this week's races:

Ohio Senate 

Vance, a venture capitalist who had billionaire Peter Thiel bankrolling a super PAC that through last week had spent $11.8 million promoting him, was trailing in polls until Trump endorsed him less than three weeks ago. 

But he easily won the 7-way race for the nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman, finishing with 32 percent of the vote in a race that had focused on who could most closely emulate Trump. The Associated Press called the race at 9:40 pm. Former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and wealthy state Sen. Matt Dolan were runners up, with 24 percent and 23 percent, respectively, when counting stopped Wednesday morning with an estimated 97 percent of the vote in. Meanwhile. former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken, who had Portman’s endorsement, finished in a distant fifth, with less than 6 percent of the vote. 

Vance faced harsh criticism from some other Republicans — especially the anti-tax Club for Growth, which was backing Mandel. The group who filled the airwaves in the weeks leading up to the election with ads highlighting his harsh 2016 criticism of Trump. 

Vance will face Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who coasted in his primary, winning nearly 70 percent of the vote in a three-candidate field.

Ohio’s 9th District

Democratic strategists’ biggest hope — and national Republicans’ biggest fear — in this primary cycle is that GOP primaries will select the most extreme candidates. The result could offset Republicans’ historical advantages with a midterm electorate that has soured on Democrats but might also be wary of Trump’s more egregious claims, especially his baseless insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. Democrats will get to prove that theory in Ohio’s 9th District. 

Majewski once transformed his front lawn into a giant “Trump 2020” lawn sign and raised thousands of dollars to bring a group of people to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington in January 2021, though he says he left before the assault on the Capitol. He was leading the four-way field with 38 percent of the vote when the AP called the race at 12:38 a.m. Eastern time. State Rep. Craig Reidell, who was endorsed by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, came in second with 31 percent of the vote. 

Outside groups spent a combined $1 million on the race. Most of that was aimed at Republican state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, who finished third with 29 percent of the vote. 

Under the new congressional lines, Trump would have carried the District by 3 points in 2020. Kaptur, who has positioned herself as an advocate for workers during her long House tenure, ran unopposed. 

Indiana’s 1st District

Air Force veteran Jennifer-Ruth Green easily won the GOP nomination in Indiana’s 1st District, where she will challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan in November. 

Green had 47 percent of the vote to Navy veteran and former LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo’s 22 percent when the AP called the seven-way race at 10:35 p.m. 

Republican strategists said either would be embraced by party leaders as the nominee in a district national Republicans are targeting in November. The GOP has touted its success recruiting female candidates and candidates of color. Green, who was added recently to the National Republican Congressional Committee's "On the Radar" list for candidates who hit organizational and fundraising benchmarks, is Black. She has appeared on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News show to offer her perspective on the GOP’s opportunity to win Black voters during the midterms. She was also the top fundraiser, pulling in $305,000 and spending $206,000 by April 13 to Milo’s $225,000 raised and $164,000 spent. 

Mrvan, who ran unopposed, raised $588,000 raised and had $422,000 in the bank. He won his 2020 election by 16 points, and a Democrat has held some version of the seat since the 1920s. The race is rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. But National Republicans see it as well within their target zone of districts that President Joe Biden carried by 10 points or less. Biden would have won there by 8 points under the new map. The district, which includes the city of Gary and some of Chicago’s southern suburbs, is largely white and working class, a population that has been moving toward the GOP.

Ohio’s 11th District

Democratic Rep. Shontel Brown notched another win in a rematch with progressive state Sen. Nina Turner. 

Brown was leading with 66 percent of the vote when the AP Press called the race at 10:22 p.m. Eastern time. Turner, a progressive firebrand who was one of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ key surrogates during his presidential runs, had 34 percent. 

Brown beat Turner by more than 5 percentage points in a 2021 special primary for the seat after Rep. Marcia Fudge became secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Biden’s administration.

Heading into the campaign's final days, Brown had $757,000 in her campaign account to Turner's $143,000. Outside spending was also in Brown's favor, with more than $1 million alone spent to support her by Protect Our Future PAC, a group funded in part by a cryptocurrency billionaire. Only $102,000 of the more than $2 million spent by outside groups went to support Turner or oppose Brown. 

Brown also has the backing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Last year, the caucus backed Turner.

Ohio’s 7th District

Former Trump aide Max Miller easily won the Republican primary in Ohio’s 7th District, leading the four-way field with 72 percent of the vote. 

But all of the state’s newly drawn districts remain the subject of a challenge before the Ohio Supreme Court, and it is unclear whether what the lines will be in November. 

If the current map stands, Republicans would have an advantage in at least 10 of 15 districts, with only two safe for Democrats. The outstanding legal challenges mean there is still a chance that federal courts could say the districts are unconstitutionally drawn, forcing a redo of Tuesday’s race.

Indiana’s 9th District

Former state Sen. Erin Houchin won a crowded race for the nomination to replace retiring GOP Rep. Trey Hollingsworth in the 9th District, denying former Rep. Mike Sodrel’s attempt to return to Congress. 

Houchin had 37 percent of the vote to Sodrel’s 26 percent when the AP called the race at 9:55 p.m. Eastern time. Stu Barnes-Israel, an Army combat veteran, came in third in the nine-way field with 21 percent. 

This was Houchin’s second congressional bid after she lost to Hollingsworth in a different version of the district in 2016, the last time the seat was open. Sodrel, 77, is a trucking company owner who waged five congressional campaigns in Southern Indiana in the 2000s and won once.

Under the new lines, the district would have voted for Trump by 28 points in 2020. The November race is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections. 

Houchin, 46, was regional director for Sen. Dan Coats, and had raised $440,000 and spent $257,000 as of April 13. Sodrel almost exclusively funded his campaign with a $725,000 loan, allowing him to spend more than twice as much as she did. He also had the support of House Freedom Action, which spent $168,000 supporting him and $42,000 opposing Houchin, including in television ads attacking her as a “career politician.”

Houchin benefited from $448,000 in support from American Dream Federal Action, a PAC launched this spring with a $4 million investment from bitcoin entrepreneur Ryan Salame, who said the PAC would have a broader focus on national and economic security, in addition to cryptocurrency, according to news reports. She was also endorsed by E-PAC, the leadership PAC founded by House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York to support Republican women running for Congress. Barnes-Israel benefited from $890,000 in outside support, most of it from a PAC called Hoosier Values, which ran ads calling Barnes-Israel “battle-tested” and a “conservative outsider.”

Ohio's 13th District

Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, a former Miss Ohio USA who had Trump’s endorsement, narrowly won the nomination in the district Ryan is vacating to run for Senate.

She had less than 29 percent in a seven-candidate field, and will face Democrat Emilia Sykes, who ran unopposed. Inside Elections rates the November race Tilt Republican.