COLUMBUS, Ohio – A group opposing Donald Trump’s endorsement of JD Vance in Ohio’s contentious Republican Senate primary is making the former president the target of a new ad campaign.
The ad from the conservative Club for Growth, which supports former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel in the race, questions Trump's decision to endorse Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author who has had to backtrack from previous criticism of the former president. The TV spot from the group's super PAC features audio of Vance bashing Trump back in 2016.
“Has Trump seen this?” asks a man in a flannel shirt. A woman labels Vance a “fraud” for once denouncing but now embracing Trump. The ad, which first aired Wednesday, also notes Trump’s past endorsement of a man who is now one of his biggest rivals: Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.
“He’s getting it wrong with JD Vance, too,” the ad says.
The Vance campaign slammed the new ad, saying, “Josh Mandel and his allies have declared war on President Trump and the entire MAGA movement."
The ad campaign only escalates the fight that has erupted in Ohio’s Republican Senate race over Trump’s highly coveted endorsement, which came just three weeks before the state’s May 3 primary. The candidates competed with one another for months to earn the support of the former president, who remains widely popular among the GOP base.
The night before Trump’s announcement, Vance opponents across the state, including supporters of fellow Republican Senate candidates Jane Timken and Mike Gibbons, mounted a failed last-ditch effort to stop the endorsement from happening.
The $1.7 million ad campaign heightens tensions between Trump and the Club for Growth, a major force in Republican politics that has spent millions to back its chosen candidates in this year's elections. While the group opposed Trump when he ran for the White House in 2016, it realigned itself after he became president. In the years since, the club's president, David McIntosh, has become a close confidant and trusted adviser of Trump.
Donald Trump Jr., the former president's son and a top Vance supporter, has taken particular umbrage to the club's efforts to defeat Vance.
“The people that are funding Josh Mandel, they spent $10 million in 2016 to fight Donald Trump,” he said at a recent campaign event.
In an interview, McIntosh said the organization continues to support Mandel as Ohio's best choice for the open Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rob Portman.
“The ad speaks for itself," he said. "We think Josh is the best Make America Great candidate and we’re going to continue to support him.”
Just weeks ago, Trump and McIntosh appeared together at a rally in North Carolina for U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who has the support of both Trump and the Club for Growth in North Carolina's Republican Senate primary.
Trump invited McIntosh to join him on stage and called him “a very powerful man” and “very good friend of mine.”
“We are undefeated when we work together,” Trump said. “He’s a winner, that’s who it is.”
Before Trump's endorsement, the group's super PAC, Club for Growth Action, had spent $4.5 million in Ohio on Mandel's behalf, mostly to pillory his rivals.
The former president's endorsement of Vance disappointed many of the state's Trump loyalists. Some tea party Republicans protested at Trump's Ohio rally last Saturday, and one conservative group, Ohio Value Voters, urged its members to either boycott the event or boo Vance when he came on stage.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report from New York.