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Republicans face off in the Ohio primary

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Primary election season began in earnest today as voters went to the polls in Ohio and Indiana. Among the early results, Congressman Tim Ryan is the Democratic Senate nominee according to a race call from the Associated Press.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is in Ohio and joins us with more. Hey, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with that Democratic Senate primary result. Tell us more.

GONYEA: Right. Congressman Ryan was expected to win. He was by far the highest-profile candidate. He's been running all along like he was running a general election, and he's really trying to follow the example of the state's Democratic senator who is not on the ballot this year; that's Senator Sherrod Brown. Brown keeps winning by focusing on economic issues. I've been with Ryan on the campaign trail, and he has gone all over the state - including to conservative parts, to Trump strongholds - stressing that economic message, often with harsh words for China.

Today, though, Ari, he was also talking about abortion some. You know, there is that leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court that could indicate Roe v. Wade being struck down. Ryan suggested that that could drive Democratic base voters to turn out as well.

SHAPIRO: Having now won the primary, did Ryan share any thoughts about the general election looking ahead?

GONYEA: I did - he did. And, you know, I asked him early today, before we knew much - voting was still going on - about his potential Republican opponent, still unknown as we speak.

TIM RYAN: They all have different versions of crazy, and so we're just going to hone in on that particular candidate and really provide the contrast.

GONYEA: And in his reference to crazy, he is talking about how, on the Republican side, there's been a lot of competition to kind of out-Trump one another among those candidates. But no matter the Republican nominee, Ryan faces an uphill fight. Many political watchers think he could maybe be the kind of Democrat who could win in a red state, especially as Republicans lean so hard into Trumpism. But again, this is a state that Trump won twice really easily.

SHAPIRO: Well, tell us about those Republicans that he's likely to be going up against. Who is it?

GONYEA: Right. I'm here in Cincinnati, in this ballroom where we are waiting to hear at some point this evening from J.D. Vance. He's holding his election night watch party here. People might remember him for his memoir, "Hillbilly Elegy." I'm with Vance because he may emerge out of a competitive Republican Senate primary after he received the endorsement of former President Trump. Trump came to Ohio a couple of weeks ago to stump for Vance and some candidates down ballot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: He fights like crazy, and he loves Ohio. And he - frankly, he's a great Buckeye. So what I'd like to do is ask J.D. Vance...

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) J.D. J.D. J.D.

TRUMP: ...Come forward. I want to pick somebody that's going to win.

GONYEA: Now, you know, a week later, Trump messed up J.D. Vance's name when he was talking about him at another rally, so there's that. But this is really the first major test to the power of the Trump endorsement this primary season. If Vance wins, Trump will claim credit. If he loses, well, that's a big story, and the questions of Trump's clout become a very hot topic, even among Republicans.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, if Vance doesn't win, who are the other Republicans that we're looking at tonight?

GONYEA: Right. There were several of them who wanted Trump's endorsement. There's Josh Mandel, a former state treasurer. It's actually his third Senate run. He's really campaigned in the combative Trump mold. There's Mike Gibbons, an investment banker who's poured a lot of his own money into the bank.

One candidate who has not sought Trump's approval and is worth watching is State Senator Matt Dolen. He's a Trump voter, but he's the only one who says the election in 2020 was not stolen. He doesn't buy Trump's lies along those lines, and he hopes he's maybe found a lane for himself.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Don Gonyea on one of the races we are watching tonight in Ohio and Indiana. For more races to keep an eye on and for live updating results tonight, go to npr.org. Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.