Could an Upset Be Brewing in Ohio's GOP Primary?

AP Photo/Joe Maiorana

Republicans in Ohio go to the polls on Tuesday to choose a candidate to run for Senate in November, and at the moment, it appears that it will be a battle between Trump-endorsed author J.D. Vance and former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.


The latest Emerson poll of “very likely voters” finds Vance ahead with 26%, Mandel with 24%, state senator Matt Dolan surging with 21%, and businessman Mike Gibbons fading to 17%.

Vance and Dolan are the only candidates who have gained ground since the Emerson poll taken in March. Trump’s endorsement of Vance has propelled him ahead of the field, but Dolan’s rise is something of a mystery.

It could be that Dolan has firmly established himself as the Never Trump alternative in the race. Every other major candidate paid homage to the former president, hoping for his endorsement. But Dolan was the only candidate who refused to kiss the ring.

Related: Was Trump’s Endorsement of J.D. Vance for Senate a Mistake?

In a multi-candidate field, it doesn’t take a majority to win. While the pro-Trump vote is going to be fractured, can a lone Never Trumper win a large enough plurality to prevail?


“I think there’s mounting evidence that he’s in a scenario where he’s running up the middle, unmolested, with a unique message and some things in his favor,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist who lives out of state but donated $250 to Dolan’s campaign in October. “Does it mean he has a lock on the race? No way. But it’s a competitive race, and he’s in it. He’s got the momentum, as of last week.”

Dolan likely has a low ceiling of support, given his dependence on Republican voters who are willing to move on from Trump — a minority of the party. But in a splintered field of candidates, that could be enough.


Another poll from Blueprint Polling actually shows Dolan winning with just 18%. That poll was taken April 21-24.

The Republican Primary for Senate in Ohio is still anyone’s race with a week remaining, with no candidate above 20% and a third of voters still undecided. Our survey completed over the weekend shows State Senator Matt Dolan leading the pack with 18%, followed closely by J.D. Vance at 17%, Mike Gibbons at 13%, and Josh Mandel at 12%. Dolan benefits from a large lead among self-described moderates; while they make up just 17% of our sample, Dolan has the support of 31% of this group (a 15 point lead over his next-closest opponent). Dolan leads with 22% among voters with a college degree, while Vance leads with 19% among those without one.

A large number of undecided voters in both the Emerson and Bluprint polls shows volatility that makes the race anyone’s to win.


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