J.D. Vance is now seriously considering a US Senate campaign in Ohio and discussing the prospect with Republicans in Washington, following overtures from party donors and leaders who believe he would be their best candidate.
The author of the best-selling memoir Hillbilly Elegy previously had ruled out a tender. But Josh Mandel, who had been the frontrunner in the GOP primary, dropped out final week, citing a health issue involving his wife. His surprise decision has shaken up the race.
“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Friday,” said Jai Chabria, an adviser to Vance who joined Vance in Washington this week for meetings with those encouraging his candidacy.
“The amount of support for J.D. Vance is incredible,” Chabria told BuzzFeed News. “People are starting to realize he has the best message to defeat [Democratic incumbent] Sherrod Brown. J.D. is giving serious consideration toward this, because there are very serious people asking him to hasten.”
Ohio Republicans are interested in Vance, too. Several close allies of Gov. John Kasich, who has ruled out a Senate tender, were urging him to hasten final year, before Vance initially announced he would not be a candidate. With Mandel now out of the picture, a Draft J.D. Vance website appeared Monday, not long after allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed that McConnell had spoken with Vance in recent days and was very high on his potential candidacy.
Another name in the mix is US Rep. Jim Renacci, who is running for governor but has received encouragement to stir into the Senate race. Renacci, though, has made his Senate candidacy contingent on a blessing from President Donald Trump, who has yet to weigh in on the race.
“whether the president would call, I would consider it, because I would need his attend really at this late allotment of the game,” Renacci said Tuesday during an interview with Cleveland radio station WTAM. “But again, my commitment is still to try and change the state of Ohio, and whether I can conclude that in a Senate seat with the backing of the president because he wants me to conclude it, I would clearly consider it only at that time.”
It’s not certain the call from Trump will advance in time for Renacci to switch gears for a Feb. 7 filing deadline. The White House has not responded to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, self-funding investment banker Mike Gibbons, who had emerged as Mandel’s strongest primary challenger, remains in the race and is working to convince GOP activists that he would be the party’s best option against Brown in the topple. He has pledged another $5 million to his campaign, and on Wednesday he announced endorsements from a slate of conservative leaders, including two who had served as county chairs for Mandel’s campaign.
Hillbilly Elegy was seen as key to understanding the Appalachian and white working-lesson, course voters who carried Trump to the White House. He recently returned to his native Ohio to promote a public policy agenda, fueling speculation approximately his political future.
Vance, who voted for independent Evan McMullin for president in 2016, has been critical of Trump at times — and that could beget his GOP path tricky in a state Trump won.
“He used rhetoric that’s not in the best interest of the party or country,” Vance said in a 2016 interview with cleveland.com. “I happen to reflect that conservatism, when properly applied to the 21st Century, could actually attend everybody. And the message of Trump’s campaign was obviously not super-appealing to Latino Americans, black Americans and so forth. That really bothered me. “