Trump becomes the target of new ad after Ohio Senate endorsement

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A group opposed to Donald Trump’s endorsement of JD Vance in Ohio’s contentious Republican primary for Senate is making the former president the target of a new ad campaign.

The announcement by the conservative Club for Growth, which supports former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel in the race, calls into question Trump’s decision to endorse Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” who has had to retract earlier criticism of the former president. The group’s super PAC TV ad features audio of Vance attacking Trump in 2016.

“Has Trump seen this?” asks a man in a flannel shirt. A woman labels Vance a “fraud” for once speaking out but now hugging Trump. The ad, which first aired Wednesday, also highlights Trump’s previous endorsement of a man who is now one of his biggest rivals: Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.

“You’re also getting JD Vance wrong,” the ad says.

Vance’s campaign criticized the new ad, saying, “Josh Mandel and his allies have declared war on President Trump and the entire MAGA movement.”

The ad campaign only intensifies the fight that has erupted in Ohio’s Republican Senate race for Trump’s highly coveted endorsement, which came just three weeks before the state’s May 3 primary. The candidates competed against each other for months to win the support of the former president, who remains very popular with the Republican base.

The night before Trump’s announcement, opponents of Vance across the state, including supporters of Republican Senate candidates Jane Timken and Mike Gibbons, mounted one last failed effort to prevent the endorsement from happening.

The $1.7 million ad campaign heightens tensions between Trump and the Club for Growth, a major force in Republican politics that has spent millions to back its chosen candidates in this year’s election. While the group opposed Trump when he ran for the White House in 2016, it realigned itself after he became president. In the years since then, club president David McIntosh has become a close confidant and trusted adviser to Trump.

Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son and one of Vance’s biggest supporters, has been particularly offended by the club’s efforts to defeat Vance.

“The people who finance Josh Mandel spent $10 million in 2016 to fight Donald Trump,” he said at a recent campaign event.

In an interview, McIntosh said the organization continues to support Mandel as Ohio’s best choice for the vacant Senate seat he will vacate. Retired Republican Rob Portman.

“The ad speaks for itself,” he said. “We believe Josh is the best candidate for Make America Great and we will continue to support him.”

Just weeks ago, Trump and McIntosh appeared together at a North Carolina rally for U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who has the support of both Trump and the Club for Growth in the North Carolina Republican Senate primary.

Trump invited McIntosh to join him on stage, calling him “a very powerful man” and “a very good friend of mine.”

“We are undefeated when we work together,” Trump said. “He’s a winner, that’s what he is.”

Before Trump’s endorsement, the group’s super PAC, Club for Growth Action, had spent $4.5 million in Ohio on Mandel’s behalf, mostly to pillory rivals.

The former president’s endorsement of Vance disappointed many of the state’s Trump loyalists. Some Tea Party Republicans protested at Trump’s rally in Ohio last Saturday, and a conservative group, Ohio Value Voters, urged its members to boycott the event or boo Vance when he took the stage.

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