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GOP candidates for US Senate seat agree on curbing immigration, but differ on response to war in Ukraine

The five leading candidates in Ohio’s Republican US Senate primary have spent a lot of time talking about social issues and about the key domestic issue of immigration. But for many people, what’s happening with the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a bigger concern.

There have been several controversial moments in Ohio’s Republican US Senate race, including these:

But while the five leading candidates have squabbled in debates and slung mud in ads and interviews, they do agree in many areas – such as finishing the wall on the southern border with Mexico.

And there’s some agreement on a major foreign policy issue too – Ukraine. All the candidates blame President Biden for what led to the Russian invasion, and all the candidates oppose American involvement in either a no-fly zone or with troops on the ground.

Trump-endorsed candidate JD Vance has gotten the most heat for his position – saying on former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s podcast that he doesn’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another. The venture capitalist and author declined an interview. But he’s also called coverage of the invasion a “distraction”, and while he’s also said it’s a tragedy, in the Republican US Senate debate at Central State University last month, Vance said – quote – “it is not our job and it is not our business”.

“Let’s remember exactly what happened with the Ukraine and compare that to what’s happened in our own country. So Congressional Republicans and Democrats refused to give Donald Trump $4 billion for a US border wall over four years, while fentanyl, illegal drugs and tons of other problems poured into this country, killing our citizens. They gave Joe Biden $14 billion for Ukraine in one week. That suggests some pretty messed-up priorities.”

Jane Timken said in an interview that in contrast to Vance, she does care, and that the Timken company has ceased operations in Russia. The former Ohio Republican Party chair says the US should send military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and should impose what she called “full court sanctions”, including banning the sale of Russian oil and gas.

“We have over 80,000 people of Ukrainian descent here in Ohio. These are their families. These are the people that they are very concerned about. And so I think as a Senator I would be pushing for peace through strength, American military strength. Our dictators like Vladimir Putin Respect American strength. But right now we're showing weakness with Joe Biden's basement diplomacy.”

State Senator and Cleveland Guardians part owner Matt Dolan said at the debate that what happens in Ukraine is important because the US must support its allies but also because China, which considers Taiwan a province and not a sovereign country, is watching. In an interview, he said it’s part of American national security.

“I do believe we should have troops in NATO countries. I also believe that we have to be stronger and more efficient and effective with our sanctions in Russia. John McCain called Russia a gas station. That's their economy. And yet we still are not putting sanctions on the very revenue source that's funding Putin's tragic war in Ukraine.”

Investment banker Mike Gibbons has talked about growing up in Parma, home to Ohio’s largest Ukrainian community. In an interview, he said the people of Ukraine can win if they’re properly armed, and that would be good for the world.

“We need to arm them with anything that can help them protect themselves. And I don't care. Now we're sending howitzers and a few others. I wish that our defense bureaucrats stopped telling everybody what they're sending. It just infuriates Putin more.“

Former state treasurer Josh Mandel didn’t respond to a request for an interview. He said at last month’s debate that Russian president Vladimir Putin has long hated the US but – using his words – “the real threat is the Chinese communist party”.

“They are focused on the downfall of America and the rise of communist China. That is why we need people in public office in the US House, in the US Senate, in the White House who are strong, who have backbone. Joe Biden is weak. I will be a point of strength, just like Donald Trump.”

The two longshot candidates, central Ohio businessmen Mark Pukita and Neil Patel were asked their thoughts at the Central State debate. Pukita made the baseless claim that all entities in the US, Ukraine and elsewhere are lying about what’s happening, but that it’s a humanitarian disaster and he supports arming the Ukrainians. Patel noted that Ukraine is not a NATO ally but that the US should support them.