Ohio’s GOP Senate Primary has been one of the highest profile primaries so far in 2022. Its cast of candidates need no introduction. From the controversies of Josh Mandel to the attempt at populism from JD Vance, and then Jane Timken trying to straddle the line of outsider and establishment. These were the three candidates we thought we’d be talking about the most. Or at least they were the three favorites in this race in most eyes. However, polling has shown a new candidate rising on the scene. And his rise may look a bit similar to another candidates rise in a primary just a state over in Indiana.
Indiana’s 2018 Primary
A bit of history has to be remembered to bring this comparison. With first-term Democrat Joe Donnelly running for re-election in 2018, Republicans saw him as a clear pickup opportunity. That led to two Congressmen, Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, running for the seat. The conventional wisdom at the beginning was that it would be either one of them as the GOP nominee.
Of course, that isn’t what happened. Instead, outsider businessman and State Representative Mike Braun broke through and won the nomination. Braun took control of key parts of the state, and finished second in both Rokita’s and Messer’s home bases. He split the two, won the primary, and went on to win the general election.
How it’s similar
You can start to see some similarities to this years GOP primary in Ohio. You had two early favorites in Josh Mandel and Jane Timken. And you now have Mike Gibbons, an outsider businessman, breaking through as a third option.
Polling in primaries has been significantly more available this cycle compared to 2018, where they were few and far between bar internals. Now though, with Trafalgar continuing to poll races, it’s been easier to track. And while Gibbons has seemed to rise quicker than Braun, that’s also because we have significantly more polling, both independently and internals, in this race.
Crucially, that polling does show Gibbons rise. He is now leading in his internals, and recent Trafalger polling showed him only a couple points behind the favorite Mandel. It has started to feel like Gibbons has legitimate momentum, and if we had this same level of polling in Indiana, we may have seen the same for Braun around this time.
How it’s not
There are however, key differences between the two primaries. In Ohio, we have two other high profile candidates: State Senator and former Cleveland Guardians Front Office man Matt Dolan and Hillbilly Elegy author JD Vance. Dolan is similar to Gibbons, in that he’s throwing millions of his personal wealth into this senate run.
Vance is an entirely different piece of the puzzle from the rest of the field. Vance is attempting a well covered run as a “new right populist”. For the most part, he has fizzled around 3rd and 4th place, and Gibbons has definitely overtaken him.
The wider candidate field makes it harder to tell if a stretch of good polling is momentum or just a one off moment. Adding on to that, Jane Timken was endorsed by Rob Portman this past week. That adds on another level of intrigue to the race. Portman’s endorsement will likely add anywhere from $850,000 to $1,400,000 to Timken’s accounts from Portman supporters. In a primary, that sudden financial boost could be crucial in such a divided field.
And that divided field is the key difference between this primary and Indiana’s in 2018. There are some growing similarities. But we will have to see where Mike Gibbons goes from here. Does he continue his momentum, or does Jane Timken rebound to be Josh Mandel’s main challenger?