DELAWARE, Ohio — Former President Donald Trump held his latest campaign rally Saturday night in Ohio to back venture capitalist J.D. Vance in the upcoming Senate primary — but voters sounded more excited for Trump himself, as well as Joe Blystone, a gubernatorial candidate known for sporting a giant cowboy hat.
With the May 3 primary just a week and a half out, Vance is hoping that Trump’s support can help lift him in a crowded primary to replace outgoing GOP Sen. Rob Portman. The crowd at Trump’s rally wasn’t fully sold on Vance, however.
Jarrod Titus, a Whirlpool worker from Fletcher, Ohio, told Yahoo News he settled on Vance after the author received Trump’s endorsement and he watched “Hillbilly Elegy,” Vance’s 2016 memoir turned Netflix movie, but he sounded more excited about Republican candidate Blystone, an Ohio farmer and political newcomer.
“I’ve seen a picture of him on a billboard, on my way home from work, and I was like, ‘He looks like a badass from the Wild West,” Titus said Saturday afternoon at the Delaware County Fairgrounds while waiting for Trump to take the stage. Ohio news outlets have referred to Blystone, whose campaign logo is a cowboy hat, as the “cowboy” candidate in the race.
Jennifer Geary, a polysomnographic technician from Delaware, said she was “going to wait and see what Trump has to say” about Vance, but she was already sold on Blystone. “I like that Blystone.”
When asked who she liked in the Senate primary, Stella Clark, a longtime Kroger employee who also lives in Delaware, said she also liked Blystone. She referred to Vance’s attacks and insults against Trump in 2016, when he called himself a ‘Never Trump guy.’”
“At first I heard JD Vance was [a] Never-Trumper, and now I see Trump backing him, it’s so confusing,” Clark said. “You know, you’ve got Ted Cruz backing Josh Mandel and now you’ve got Trump backing J.D. Vance. They just make you so confused.”
Vance, in his brief speech to the crowd before Trump took the stage, won some big applause when he talked about securing the border and recounted the attacks Trump endured in office. He obliquely to his past criticism of Trump.
“It took me a little bit longer to come along with the president,” Vance said. “But, ladies and gentlemen, the thing that Donald Trump revealed more than any policy achievement, was that we are living in an incredibly corrupt country.”
Trump, unsurprisingly, was less subtle in his own remarks.
“He’s a guy that said some bad s*** about me,” Trump said. “If I went by that standard, I don’t think I would have ever endorsed anybody in the country.”
Trump opened by touting Vance and mentioned Vance to some scattered applause. It wasn’t until Trump brought Vance back onstage a second time and explained his endorsement thinking to them that the crowd roared for Vance.
One Ohio Republican operative likened Trump’s post-White House rally to a Grateful Dead concert, with the faithful trailing him to venue after venue. And the Saturday night rally itself had the classic feel of a Trump event, with blaring classic rock and country music from giant banks of speakers hoisted on cranes.
Throughout the final stretch of the battle, candidates and their Republican staffers have said they expect a low-turnout affair. Vance’s top opponent appears to be Josh Mandel, a former state treasurer who won the GOP nomination for Senate in 2012.
“It’s created a bit of chaos in the race,” said Jane Timken, a former Ohio Republican Party chairwoman now running for Senate against Vance, Mandel and the other candidates in the field. “It’s a jump ball race.”