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J.D. Vance, Trump critic-turned-devotee, brings MAGA fealty to Ohio

Vance, a venture capitalist and author, held off a strong challenge from his Democratic opponent Tim Ryan to keep Ohio red.
JD Vance On Ohio Campaign Trail
J.D. Vance at a campaign rally on May 1, 2022 in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.Drew Angerer / Getty Images, file

J.D. Vance has been elected to the Senate from Ohio, NBC News projects, making Ohio red — again. Vance, a venture capitalist and author, held off a strong challenge from his Democratic opponent, Rep. Tim Ryan, to replace retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Vance’s victory is a bullet dodged for Senate Republicans, holding what had been a possible pickup for Democrats.

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That the race was even competitive was certainly not in Republicans’ plans when this election cycle began: The Buckeye State voted for Donald Trump twice by more than 8 points, and Gov. Mike DeWine romped to re-election Tuesday over Democrat Nan Whaley. Vance, by contrast, struggled from the moment he entered the race in the summer of 2021, as other Republicans hammered him for past attacks on Donald Trump. Vance groveled for the former president, who publicly crowed that he “is kissing my a--.”

The fawning worked; Trump endorsed Vance, possibly carrying him to victory. But Vance struggled to raise money and connect with voters. And in Ryan, who has represented much of northeastern Ohio for nearly 20 years, the Democrats had a nominee well-suited to win parts of the state that have trended Republican.

Yet in the end, partisan loyalties were enough for Vance. And that partisan loyalty is exactly how Vance will likely behave in Washington — showing fealty to whatever Republican voters want from him. Like Lindsey Graham, another Trump critic-turned-devotee, Vance knows his political survival depends on obedience to the former president and his supporters. While the outgoing Portman pretended to be a moderate before he voted MAGA, don’t expect Vance to even feign principle.