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Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican party will face a major test on Tuesday when a coal lobbyist endorsed by the former president faces off against 10 fellow Republicans in a closely watched special election in Ohio.
Trump, who was banned from all major social media platforms over his supporters’ attack on the US Capitol on January 6, has sought a return to the political stage ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when control of the US Senate and the House of Representatives will be up for grabs.
The 75-year-old former president has not ruled out running for the White House again in 2024, and the latest Federal Election Commission filings show he entered the second half of this year with a war chest of more than $100m.
In recent months, Trump has endorsed candidates in races across the country, including Mike Carey, one of 11 Republicans vying on Tuesday for the party’s nomination in a special election in Ohio’s 15th congressional district, an area that spans much of the Columbus suburbs. The seat had been held by Republican Steve Stivers, who resigned in May to run the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
Trump endorsed Carey, chair of the Ohio Coal Association, in June. His stamp of approval boosted the name recognition of the political novice and longtime lobbyist who was for years an associate of Bob Murray, the late energy executive.
Murray was the founder and chief executive of Murray Energy, an Ohio-based mining company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2019 and is now known as American Consolidated Natural Resources. The company donated millions of dollars to Trump, his political campaigns and affiliated super PACs while Carey was its vice-president of government affairs.
When Trump endorsed Carey in June, he called the lobbyist a “courageous fighter for the people and our economy”. Weeks later, the lobbyist joined Trump at a fairground in Wellington, Ohio for the president’s first rally since leaving the White House. Trump’s fundraising vehicles have funnelled some $400,000 to supporting Carey, who has raised more than any other Republican candidate in the race.
Tuesday’s primary in Ohio comes just one week after Susan Wright, another Trump-endorsed Republican, came up short in a run-off race in Texas’s sixth congressional district. Wright lost to fellow Republican Jake Ellzey in a result that raised nationwide questions about whether Trump is still a kingmaker in the Republican party. Wright, the widow of former congressman Ron Wright, lost to Ellzey by six points.
“If Carey ends up losing this, I can see Trump, going forward, being a bit more cautious about who he endorses . . . to the extent that Trump is careful and cautious,” said J Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“Obviously [Trump] wants to stay active in the political process, but I feel like he may be playing a little bit too fast and loose with some of these endorsements,” Coleman added.
The winner of Tuesday’s primary in the 15th congressional district will face an as yet-unselected Democratic opponent in November.
The Columbus area race is one of two hotly anticipated primaries being held in Ohio on Tuesday. A Democratic primary is also taking place in the state’s 11th congressional district, an urban area that includes parts of Cleveland and Akron. The contest is to fill a vacancy created earlier this year when former Democratic congresswoman Marcia Fudge resigned to join Joe Biden’s administration as US secretary of housing and urban development.
The Democratic primary has underscored the divisions in Biden’s party between centrists and progressives. Shontel Brown, a local Democratic party chair, and Nina Turner, a co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, are widely seen as the front runners in a crowded field of more than a dozen candidates.
Sanders has campaigned for Turner, while Brown was endorsed by Jim Clyburn, the veteran South Carolina congressman whose support was seen as vital to Biden’s own presidential campaign.