Tuesday’s Indiana and Ohio primaries included a revealing test of former President Donald Trump’s influence, several competitive primaries in redistricted House seats, and an intraparty Democratic rematch.
These primaries, ultimately, set up candidates for what’s poised to be a contentious general election this fall, when Republicans could well retake the House majority.
Here are the winners and losers from Tuesday’s Senate, House, and gubernatorial races.
Winner: Donald Trump
Trump reportedly called himself a “gambler” in his approach to endorsing primary candidates, many of whom weren’t necessarily favored when they got his endorsement.
On Tuesday, the first of his big gambles paid off when Trump-backed candidate and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance won the GOP nomination to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. Polls prior to Trump’s endorsement had shown Vance middling in the seven-way race, but that late nod, plus an injection of cash from Vance backers, pushed Vance ahead.
There was plenty for Trump to like along the way to this win: He blessed Vance just over two weeks ago, and prior to that, most of the field made private entreaties to Trump and publicly competed for who could align themselves most closely with the former president. Vance, previously a severe critic of Trump, spent months openly stating that he had been wrong about Trump.
During Trump’s presidential campaign and shortly after, Vance referred to him as “America’s Hitler” and “a moral disaster” and suggested in 2016 that he might vote for Hillary Clinton if Trump seemed likely to win. Vance then did an about-face as he launched his political career, lauding Trump as the best president of his lifetime.
While Vance’s victory will help bolster Trump’s claim to be a kingmaker in the party, it’s not clear it will be predictive of other GOP primaries.
Though Vance almost certainly wouldn’t have won without Trump, he didn’t win by a huge enough margin to draw any decisive conclusions. Some Republicans have also predicted a tough month of primaries ahead for some of Trump’s other gambles including Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz (a.k.a. TV personality Dr. Oz) and former Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who’s trailing in polls in his challenge against the state’s incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
Loser(s): The other Trumpian candidates running for Ohio Senate
The GOP primary in Ohio got remarkably vicious — at one point it almost got physical — considering how much most of the contenders agreed on. Four of the five viable candidates spent considerable time courting Trump, touting how much they had done for him while in office or how much they had liked him all along, while Vance went out of his way to say how wrong he had been when he was saying all those nasty things about Trump.
Josh Mandel — a former state treasurer who was endorsed by other high-profile Republican figures including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — had fought hard to show his fealty to Trump and told him endorsing Vance would be a mistake. A polling firm connected to his campaign even suggested that endorsing Vance wouldn’t give him enough of a bump to put him in fourth place.
Former state GOP Chair Jane Timken, whose tenure in that job came while Trump was in office, argued that the other candidates in the race were just “pretenders” and that she was the “real Trump conservative,” as one TV ad stated.
And millionaire investment banker Mike Gibbons described himself and Trump as kindred “businessmen with a backbone,” claiming that he would save the Ohio economy just as Trump “saved our economy before.”
Their reward for that? Trump endorsed the former critic, propelling him to the win. The also-rans, then just days out from the primary, couldn’t risk putting off their Trump-supporting GOP base by publicly lashing out at Trump over it.
Loser: Progressive candidates
Moderate Democrats’ resounding wins in the Ohio Democratic primaries confirmed two things: Name recognition matters, and progressive candidates have a tough road ahead of them.
In Ohio’s Democratic Senate primary, Morgan Harper faced an uphill battle against Rep. Tim Ryan from the start. Harper touted endorsements from a collection of progressive organizations, like the local outposts of the climate-change-focused Sunrise Movement, the Bernie Sanders-inspired Our Revolution organization, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. She campaigned on reforming antitrust laws, rebuilding manufacturing jobs through a Green New Deal-adjacent initiative, and enacting Medicare-for-all — and she couldn’t make a dent in Ryan’s support.
A similar picture unfolded in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, where a rematch between incumbent Rep. Shontel Brown and Nina Turner resulted in a second defeat for Turner, a former top Sanders surrogate. Backed by endorsements from President Biden and Democratic South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn (who campaigned with her), Brown benefited from name recognition and big PAC spending to boost her candidacy.
Winner: Progressive ideas
Though establishment-aligned candidates won in races around Ohio, they didn’t get there without embracing a slight leftward shift in their priorities.
In the Democratic race for governor, former Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley became the first woman to be nominated for the state’s top office. Running on promises to protect abortion rights, enact a $15 minimum wage, push for gun control measures, and implement universal preschool, Whaley also received support from the state’s only statewide-elected Democrat, Sherrod Brown, as well as the pro-abortion rights group EMILY’s List.
Ryan and Brown, in their respective races, also pulled together ideas from the center and left in their pitches to voters, specifically on job creation, labor-organizing protections, a $15 minimum wage, and lower health care costs. Though they beat left-leaning challengers, their wins also show that challenges from the left can push more moderate candidates to consider the substance of progressive demands.
Winner: Mike DeWine
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) easily beat back primary challengers to win his race on Tuesday.
DeWine, who’s seeking his second term, had a couple of factors working for him. For one, his three primary challengers — all of whom were more conservative — split the vote. Additionally, while Trump dinged DeWine after he refused to question the 2020 election results, he didn’t wind up endorsing any of DeWine’s primary opponents.
DeWine’s approach to governance may represent one way establishment Republicans can try to neutralize their challengers when Trump still has such an outsize presence in the party. While DeWine was initially vocal about pandemic safety policies including business closures and mask mandates, he ultimately shifted away from them as Republican blowback toward such restrictions grew. Additionally, though he recognized Biden as the winner of the presidential election, he’s also backed a commission to study voter security.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has taken a similar tack, while also picking up Trump’s endorsement. LaRose previously expressed his confidence in the state’s 2020 election results, though he left the door open to questions about voter fraud.
Winner: Republican women candidates
Building on the gains they made in House races last cycle, Republican women won multiple primaries that took place on Tuesday.
In Indiana’s First district, Air Force veteran Jennifer-Ruth Green is set to take on incumbent Democrat Frank Mrvan this fall as Republicans try to flip his seat. In Indiana’s Ninth District, former state Sen. Erin Houchin is up against teacher Matthew Fyfe in a safe Republican seat. And in Ohio’s 13th District, attorney and commentator Madison Gesiotto Gilbert is competing with former state House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes for Rep. Tim Ryan’s old seat.
In 2020, GOP women increased their ranks in the House significantly after they saw a precipitous drop the previous cycle. Rep. Elise Stefanik, the House Republican Conference chair, has also made recruiting and supporting women candidates a priority.
Currently, women are still vastly underrepresented in the Republican conference and Congress as a whole. They make up 14 percent of Republican representatives and about 28 percent of lawmakers in the House overall.