J.D. Vance, the venture capitalist and the author of the bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy," is expected on Thursday evening to announce his candidacy in the 2022 race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.
Vance’s political team has advised reporters that he’ll make a "special announcement" at a factory in Middletown, where he was raised, and sources close to Vance say he’ll formally declare his candidacy at the event.
Vance’s entry into the Republican Senate race will only magnify what’s shaping up to be a wide open and likely expensive battle for a seat the GOP must hold on to if they hope to win back the Senate majority.
The field of Republican candidates already includes former Ohio treasurer and former two-time Senate candidate Josh Mandel; former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken; Cleveland businessman and luxury auto dealership giant Bernie Moreno; 2018 Ohio Republican Senate candidate Mike Gibbons, a Cleveland entrepreneur, real estate developer and investment banker. Rep. Mike Turner, a Republican from Dayton, has launched a listening tour to talk with voters about a potential Senate bid.
Both Gibbons and Moreno have the ability to self-fund their campaigns, while Mandel and Timken to date have already produced impressive fundraising hauls.
Vance is being supported by Protect Ohio Values, a super PAC that was formed earlier this year. PayPal co-founder and billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel made headlines in March by contributing $10 million of his own money to finance the newly formed super PAC. The group also received what they described as a "significant" donation from the conservative megadonor Mercer family.
"The battle for the Republican nomination is going to be very, very costly," Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, told Fox News.
Beck noted that "none of these candidates have high levels of statewide visibility," which will further necessitate the spending of big bucks to raise the contenders name recognition among Ohio voters and get their message out across the state.
Vance, who lives in Cincinnati, worked as a principal in a venture capital firm owned by Thiel after attending law school. He grabbed national attention after "Hillbilly Elegy" – which tells his story of growing up in a struggling steel mill city and his roots in Appalachian Kentucky - became a New York Times bestseller and was made into a Netflix film. This is Vance’s first political campaign, although he considered a 2018 GOP challenge to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown before deciding against running.
The super PAC launched a statewide digital ad blitz on the eve of Vance’s expected campaign launch. The spot, shared first with Fox News, showcased Vance as a "veteran" and a "conservative." The ad includes a clip of a Vance speech in which he delivers his populist message.
"I’m worried that we’re increasingly becoming the type of country where stories like mine don’t happen as often — where the American dream seems to be in crisis," Vance says in the commercial.
"We have for the first time in our history a ruling class, an elite, who don’t actually care about the American nation and the people who live in it," he charges. "It’s why they’re so willing to ship our manufacturing jobs and our industrial base to China. It’s why their immigration policies have created an incredible crisis at our southern border…Somebody’s gotta criticize it and somebody’s got to fight against it."
The ad appears to be an early signal for the kind of culture issues the 36-year-old Vance is expected to spotlight in the months ahead – such as cancel culture, big tech, and critical race theory – as well as economic populism and immigration. Vance has used his social media feeds of late to stir the pot — to rally conservatives as he takes aim at the left.
The winner of next year’s primary will likely face off against longtime Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, of northeastern Ohio. Ryan, who declared his candidacy for the Senate in April, is considered the favorite for the Democratic nomination, in a primary field expected to be much smaller than the large GOP roster of contenders.
Democrats are hoping that a potentially brutal Republican primary battle will politically weaken the eventual GOP nominee.
"J.D. Vance and Peter Thiel’s entry into Ohio’s Republican Senate race ensures this nasty primary is only going to get messier, as GOP contenders focus on attacking each other rather than making a positive, forward-looking case to Ohio voters," Brad Bainum, spokesperson for the pro-Democratic rapid response and research group American Bridge 21st Century, told Fox News.
There’s been a full court press by the GOP Senate nomination contenders to showcase their support and loyalty for former President Trump, who comfortably won Ohio in both his 2016 presidential victory and his 2020 re-election defeat.
Trump, who remains incredibly popular with Republican voters and holds immense sway over GOP politicians more than five months removed from the White House, continues to play a kingmaker’s role in party politics as he repeatedly flirts with a 2024 White House run.
The leading candidates each used the former president’s rally last weekend in Lorain County, Ohio – Trump’s first since departing the White House – to affirm their commitment to his America First agenda.
Vance also attended the rally and tweeted out a photo of himself and his father at the event.
Vance publicly opposed Trump’s 2016 presidential push before supporting Trump’s 2020 re-election. And he’s been the target of anonymous texts sent to Republican voters in Ohio as well as political reporters covering the race that slam him as a "Never-Trumper."
The conservative outside group Club for Growth, which has endorsed Mandel, is accusing Vance of "tearing down President Trump and mocking Trump voters."
But Protect Ohio Values, the pro-Vance super PAC, tells Fox News that Vance "believes deeply in President Trump’s America First agenda" and will fight for "polices that will benefit Ohio’s mighty Middle Class."
Trump, who’s met with the Ohio GOP Senate contenders, including Vance, has made endorsements in some other competitive Republican Senate primaries. But he has not weighed in to date on the Buckeye State nomination battle.
The U.S. Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties, but the Democrats hold a razor-thin majority due to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as president of the Senate. That means the GOP only needs a one-seat pickup to regain the majority.
But Republicans are defending 20 of the 34 seats up for grabs in 2022. Besides Ohio, the GOP is also defending open seats in the key battlegrounds of North Carolina and Pennsylvania as well as in Missouri and Alabama.