Tuesday is an important election day in Ohio. On Earth 1, voters in Cleveland, Akron and Euclid (OH-11) have an opportunity to do something of great and lasting consequence: elect Nina Turner to Congress. The status quo establishment, stinking of corruption and led by Hillary Clinton, Jim Clyburn, Joyce Beatty, Josh Gottheimer, the Likud lobby and the oil lobby, is flooding the district with immense amounts of sewer money this week to try to prevent what looks like a big Turner win.
But Ohio has something going on of interest on Earth 2 as well. Unable to stomach another minute of having to work for Donald Trump, Ohio conservative Steve Stivers resigned from Congress, giving up a gerrymandered district made of all or part of 12 counties that include wealthy white sections of Columbus and suburbs and small towns to the west and south the city (OH-15). There are 11 Republican candidates and the winner will likely face state Rep. Allison Russo, who flipped her seat from red to blue in 2018 and hopes to do the same thing in November.
The drama on Tuesday is because of Trump, whose endorsed candidate just lost in Texas, embarrassing him and threatening his power within the GOP. OH-15 is a must-win for him. As CNN reported this morning, he has a lot on the line. Trump endorsed coal lobbyist Mike Carey, "throwing his weight behind a political novice in a race against a host of other Republicans, including multiple local elected officials." Carey also bought an endorsement from Corey Lewandowski. But other candidates have substantial endorsements as well. The Franklin County Republican Party endorsed state Sen. Stephanie Kunze. State Rep. Jeff LaRe was endorsed by Stivers and over a dozen of his colleagues in the legislature. State Sen Bob Peterson was endorsed by former congressmen Steve Austria and Dave Hobson and by a boatload of local officials. Rand Paul endorsed a crackpot anti-Fauci libertarian like himself, Ron Hood, and Mark Meadows' wife, Debbie, endorsed religious nut Ruth Edmonds.
The only public polling I've seen was by Trump's polling firm, FabrizioLee, which shows Mike Carey running away with the nomination, especially when the local monkeys are told that Trump endorsed him.
It's a crowded race, with close to a dozen Republicans still vying for the congressional seat. This has led multiple Republican operatives, both in Ohio and nationally, to speculate that it is eminently possible for Trump's candidate to lose the primary-- and to acknowledge that yet another loss for Trump would dent his standing as a Republican kingmaker. It also could be personally frustrating for Trump, a politician who routinely bragged as President about the strong win percentage of the Republicans he backed in primaries.
"These specials are volatile," said a senior Republican strategist who has worked on House races. "People don't know these guys as well. There are not the massive amounts of attention. ... They need to make sure their message actually breaks through. And that's hard to do."
On the ground, both Republican operatives unaligned with a candidate as well as those working for a campaign acknowledge that while Trump's endorsement is powerful, it is diluted by the size of the field, the fact that candidates have had roughly only three months to campaign and the reality that nearly all candidates in the race are tying themselves to Trump's message.
"Obviously, the Trump endorsement is a big boost for Carey," said a top strategist for Ruth Edmonds, a Black Republican who is running as a candidate in line with Trump. "But it is not as big of a factor, as you are already seeing with what happened in Texas the other day, and there are just so many candidates in this race."
The strategist also noted that most voters just aren't engaged in the election, with the Edmonds campaign expecting roughly 40,000 people to vote in the primary. In the 2020 general election, there were more than 380,000 votes cast in the district's House race.
"We are looking at a race with very, very low turnout," the strategist said. "So, is the Trump endorsement important? Obviously. But it is not the end of the world, especially in a race like this."
...While polls show an overwhelming number of Republicans remain loyal to the former President, his endorsement is central to his standing within the party-- both the prospect of him drumming up support for a candidate and the possibility that he could endorse an opponent. But times have changed for Trump: He no longer has the White House bully pulpit, he can't fly Air Force One into a district and rally in front of it and he has been suspended from multiple social media platforms after his actions on January 6, something multiple operatives believe has weakened the power of his endorsement.
"Facebook is where a tremendous amount of rural Ohioans get their news. That is just a rurality," said Colton Henson, an unaligned Republican operative who lives in the congressional district. "So that has been even more tough (for Trump) because the average 65-year-old woman who is a retired school employee or factory worker, she is on Facebook and Trump's website just isn't accessed by the average voter."
Henson said the Trump endorsement "matters a lot to the voters who know it," but with all the other candidates in the race touting themselves as Trump-aligned candidates, there is "a lot of confusion" among voters.
"If you are a voter who wants to take your marching orders from President Trump on this the other candidates have purposely made it harder" to do that, Henson said.
In an attempt to avoid another loss, a top Trump-aligned super PAC is looking to boost Carey even more, pledging to spend $350,000 to boost the lobbyist in the final days of the campaign. The money will fund television and digital ads, along with direct text messages to voters.
It's a sizable buy in a special election-- and Ohio Republicans said it could make a difference come Tuesday-- but the starkest takeaway, they said, may be how it lays bare that Trump and those close to him don't want to suffer another loss.
"One of the biggest 'sticks' Trump has is the ability to influence Republican primaries," said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist and former top communicator at the National Republican Congressional Committee. "He needs to keep that ability intact. Ohio is a huge test for that."
On Wednesday, Trump referred to the other candidates-- most of them far right freaks who agree with him on everything-- as a "gang of RINOs in Ohio's 15th Congressional District."
As David Hopkins noted at Honest Graft yesterday, it's the conservative media that props Trump up and gives him control of the Republican Party. "Trump," he wrote "is still the Republican Party's spiritual leader in exile. Most other Republican politicians don't dare express criticism of Trump in public, ambitious candidates troop to Mar-a-Lago to seek his endorsement, and his style of resentment politics continues to gain adoption even among former detractors in his party... The main conduits through which Trump exerts control over other Republicans are the conservative media outlets with which he has maintained a close alliance ever since his 2016 nomination. Trump is much more effective at imposing his preferences on the party when the Republican electorate is made aware of those preferences by the informational sources they trust the most."
Hopkins explained that back when Trump was president and before he was banned by social media for repeatedly lying, it wasn't the his tweets themselves that were as important as their amplification "by other media platforms with much larger popular audiences." His current statements don't get much attention, except for derision on the left.