Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the attribution of a statement from Mike Gibbons' campaign.
Author and U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance on Tuesday disputed criticism that he flip-flopped on his support for Donald Trump, saying he didn't take the former president seriously at first but always believed in his agenda.
“I just didn’t think this guy would actually deliver on it, and he proved me wrong,” Vance said in an interview with the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau.
Vance entered the crowded Senate race to replace Ohio Sen. Rob Portman last week, joining a slew of Republicans and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan in a fight for the seat. The venture capitalist is best known for his memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” which depicts his family's struggles in Appalachian Kentucky and his mother's addiction during his childhood in Middletown.
Other Republican candidates who are eager to secure Trump's endorsement have been quick to highlight their opponent's past. Vance called Trump “noxious” and “reprehensible” in 2016 and ultimately voted for independent Evan McMullin that year.
He also isn't registered as a Republican in Ohio because he didn't vote in the 2018 or 2020 primaries.
“Not only do we welcome to the race, we welcome him to the Republican Party,” said Wes Farno, a senior advisor for Mike Gibbons' Senate campaign. “He's come a long way since voting for third party candidate Evan MacMullin in an attempt to elect Hillary Clinton in 2016, and our party should be open to converts. We just shouldn't elect them to the Senate.”
Vance has since deleted some tweets that were critical of Trump but said that's nothing new for him. Anyone who has watched him in recent years should be familiar with his evolution on the former president, he argued.
“I don’t like the idea that I somehow deleted my tweets because I was worrying about them coming up in the context of the election,” Vance said.
Vance is running as a Washington outsider who wants to hold the business community and government officials accountable. He contends CEOs are more focused on engaging in political fights than investing in American communities or bringing back manufacturing jobs.
As for voters who think Vance is an outsider to Ohio? He said he left to join the Marine Corps, study and do some business, but made the choice to return when it was time to start raising a family. Vance lives in Cincinnati's East Walnut Hills neighborhood.
“This is my home,” he said. “It’s always going to be my home.”
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
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