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Donald Trump appears before thousands in Delaware County rally

People line up for a rally with former President Donald Trump, Republican U.S. candidate J.D. Vance, and other primary candidates at the Delaware County fairgrounds.
Daniel Konik
People line up for a rally with former President Donald Trump, Republican U.S. candidate J.D. Vance, and other primary candidates at the Delaware County fairgrounds.

When former President Donald Trump took the stage Saturday night at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, thousands of Republicans were there to greet him with cheers and chants.

That included people from other states such as Brandy and Dave Gabalski who came from New York to see Trump's speech.

"This is my third time coming to see him. I saw him in Buffalo, tried to see him in Erie but didn't get in and now we are here," Brandy Gabalski said.

Many in the crowd were from Ohio with Trump as the big draw. But it's hard to tell if the crowd would support candidates for office that have been endorsed by Trump.

David Cochran from Urbana said he's decided he'll back Republican U.S. Senate Candidate, "Hillbilly Elegy" author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance in the U.S. Senate race since Trump announced he was endorsing Vance last week.

When asked why he was voting for Vance, Cochran said, "Quite frankly, I don't know that much about him — just because of Trump. If Trump says he's ok, he's ok."

Mandi Kirkham from Powell wasn't sold on Vance yet. "I think Trump is going to be free to do whatever he wants or endorse whomever he wants. It doesn't mean we have to agree with him or like it," Kirkham said.

Lori and Terry Dennis of Marion said they were also undecided in the U.S. Senate race. They said they like Mike Gibbons, an investment banker who is also in the race. "It's either between Vance and Gibbons right now," Terry Dennis said. Lori Dennis added, "Yeah, we are really liking Gibbons."

Trump didn't spend much time onstage with Vance but did allow him to say a few words. In his brief statement, Vance called Trump "the greatest president of our time" and said he was wrong when he denounced Trump on social media and in various interviews back in 2016.

Some Republicans, including many GOP county Republican party chairs, have criticized Vance for his previous statements and have said he's not a true conservative. In fact, some of Vance's opponents have aired ads that feature Vance making his anti-Trump comments. Vance has said he has changed his mind about Trump since he was elected president. Vance is heavily funded by venture capitalist Peter Thiel who has put $3.5 million more into a super PAC that is backing Vance.

In addition to Vance and Gibbons, the crowded field for U.S. Senate includes former state treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken, Ohio state senator and Cleveland Guardians co-owner Matt Dolan, businessmen Mark Pukita, and Neil Patel.

In a statement, Dolan said, "My opponents are consumed with bitterness, negativity, and distractions in the waning days of this campaign. I am the only candidate for the U.S. Senate with a proven record of conservative results capable of stopping Joe Biden's reckless agenda and getting America back on the right track."

Michael Beyer, Ohio Democratic Party spokesperson, said the rally only intensified a "chaotic race" and kicked off more infighting.

"Trump’s priorities were clear tonight – spending more time furthering his own 2024 ambitions than focusing on his lackluster, phony endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate in 2022," Beyer said in a written statement.

Trump hasn't endorsed a gubernatorial candidate though Gov. Mike DeWine was the chair of the former president's campaign in 2020. DeWine was not at the Trump rally due to his COVID-19 diagnosis earlier this week. But one of DeWine's opponents was present. Former Ohio Congressman Jim Renacci said he would love to get Trump's endorsement but believes he can beat DeWine, with or without it.

Renacci said polls show about 12% of the GOP voters surveyed haven't yet made up their minds. "We have a sitting governor who can't break 40% so the goal will be in the next 10 days to get those 12% to come my way. If the president endorses, it's over for Gov. DeWine and I think he knows that," Renacci said.

Will Wright of Ostrander said he's going to vote for Renacci.

"I think he's true to what he says. He's pro-Trump. Pro guns," Wright said.

Kirkham said she is undecided between Renacci or Blystone but she is adamant about who she won't vote for. She said she definitely wouldn't vote for DeWine. "I think he's too wishy-washy. We never know which was he's going to go," Kirkham said.

Terry Dennis said he and his wife are leaning toward Renacci's other opponent, Ohio farmer Joe Blystone.

"I like Blystone which is pretty big to us. We went and saw him," Terry Dennis explained.

Cochran said he was also voting for Blystone, adding he doesn't like the way DeWine handled the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular, the lottery that allowed Ohioans who had received vaccines to be entered into a million dollar jackpot. "The million bucks to get a vaccine, the Vax-A-Million or whatever it was called, I was totally against that," Cochran said.

In some last minute endorsements, Trump announced in the hours before the rally that he was also endorsing Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor Keith Faber, both Republicans, in their bids for re-election. Trump has also endorsed several congressional candidates including Congressman Mike Carey, Trump's former senior advisor Max Miller and newcomer Madison Gesiotto Gilbert.

Early voting for the May 3 primary is under way right now. Ohioans will be able to vote for governor and statewide offices but will not be able to cast ballots for state legislative races since redistricting maps have not yet been deemed constitutional. Another election will be held later, possibly in August, to allow Ohioans the opportunity to vote for those candidates.