COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republicans running for the seat of retiring Ohio Sen. Rob Portman appear determined to bury the soft-spoken country-club bonhomie that was once a hallmark of the party in this state and replace it with the pugilistic brand of conservatism owned by Donald Trump and amplified by a new band of Buckeye bomb throwers.
The race descended into a brutal slugfest as the leading candidates, author-turned-venture capitalist J.D. Vance, former state treasurer Josh Mandel and a self-funded businessman, Mike Gibbons, entered the final weekend before Tuesday’s primaries accusing one another of being insufficiently right-wing or disloyal to the man in Mar-a-Lago.
Ohio used to be known for the quiet conservatism of George Voinovich, a celebrated former senator, and Mike DeWine, its current governor; for the merlot-swilling happy-warrior days of former House Speaker John Boehner; for the moderation of John Kasich, a two-term governor; and for the free-trade, free-market ideology of Portman.
Instead, affections for such Ohio leaders are being weaponized — in broadsides from the candidates and advertisements by their allies — as evidence that rivals are paying only lip service to Trump and his angry populism.