Trump Endorsement Could Decide GOP Senate Primaries in Three Key States

Key Republican Senate primaries in Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are poised for a shake-up after former President Donald Trump confirmed that endorsements are forthcoming in the three uncertain contests.

Trump is especially popular with the GOP base in those states, and the retirement of the incumbent Republican senator in each state sparked competitive primaries fought primarily over who is most closely aligned with the former president. Accordingly, with the candidates differing little on major issues, Trump’s endorsement could sway voters and effectively decide the winner of each campaign.

“President Trump’s endorsement in Missouri will be important,” said Gregg Keller, a Republican strategist in St. Louis.

“A Trump endorsement in Ohio likely means victory for the beneficiary,” added David Myhal, a Republican strategist in Cincinnati. “The only real question is: What criteria is he using to make the decision?”

The retirement of Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania led to crowded and competitive GOP primaries in all three states. The Republicans’ ability to hold the line in each is crucial to their prospects for recapturing the Senate majority in this year’s midterm elections.

In Republican primaries in Missouri and Ohio, Trump has held back and watched the contests develop, unsure of whom to back. But with the Buckeye State primary coming May 3 and the Show Me State primary coming Aug. 2, Trump told the Washington Examiner he does plan to issue endorsements.

But to Myhal’s question, the former president seems unsure of the criteria he plans to apply to make the choice because, as he explained, nearly every candidate is campaigning as a strong supporter of him and his agenda. (Trump has previously said he opposes Matt Dolan, a state senator running in Ohio.)

“I like almost all of them, and it’s hard not to,” Trump said this week during a wide-ranging telephone interview. “Every one of them likes Trump, and I like a lot of those guys. My hardest thing is to endorse people over others when they all like you.”

That means that in Missouri, scandal-plagued former Gov. Eric Greitens is still in the running for Trump’s seal of approval despite pleas from Republican insiders warning that his nomination would put the seat in play for the Democrats in the otherwise ruby-red state.

“I don’t think President Trump will endorse Greitens for a whole host of reasons, the first being that it wouldn’t be smart to endorse a fatally flawed candidate, and person, like Greitens only to see him lose the general,” said Keller, a longtime critic of the former governor. “That would be a huge own goal.”

In Pennsylvania, Trump is treading cautiously after the first candidate he endorsed in the Senate primary, Sean Parnell, exited the race in November to attend to family troubles. The candidates who have emerged since then, physician and TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, better known simply as “Dr. Oz,” and David McCormick, the former chief executive officer of a hedge fund, are both campaigning across the commonwealth by making strong appeals to Trump and his loyal base.

Both Oz and McCormick have their challenges. But what both possess is a preexisting relationship with Trump that opens the possibility of receiving his endorsement. And whether they receive the former president’s backing could be the most important factor of all in determining which one of them finishes on top.

“His endorsement of a Senate candidate will undoubtedly shake up the tight Republican race,” said Jeffrey Brauer, a political science professor at Keystone College in Pennsylvania. “It will particularly electrify and motivate important rural and veteran voters with whom support of Trump remains high. An endorsement from Trump would give a significant bump to a candidate’s poll numbers.”

Brauer said one important clue to what Trump might do in Pennsylvania dropped recently when Parnell gave his backing to McCormick. Pennsylvania’s primary is May 17.