With a sizable Ukrainian American community in Ohio, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine could have political consequences on the Republican Senate midterm primary. As Ohioans step forward to support their fellow citizens, the competing millionaire candidates attack one another over their Russian investments. We question if this red-leaning state could be about to change color?
Ohio is home to almost 80,000 citizens of Ukrainian descent. Many still have families ties to the country that is under Russian attack. In the suburbs around Cleveland, there are districts with large populations of residents with Ukrainian origins. They came to Cleveland to escape the Soviet Union or religious persecution.
Ohioans Show Support
Since the Russian attack on February 24, it’s not only the residents of Ukrainian origin reaching out to those affected by the war – Ohioans are also demonstrating their support for Ukraine. Ukrainian businesses in the Cleveland area are witnessing people give extra cash and asking how they can get it overseas into the hands of Ukrainian fighters. George Salo, who manages a family meat market and deli said: “It was really odd at first because I didn’t put up any signs asking for this. The public wanted to help and they were asking me to help them help. And now it is normal that I get $200 a day from customers.” He added: “I just get the feeling that everyone in America is starting to feel the same way we do in Parma,” continuing: “We’ll see, but I’m seeing that people are seeing this as a fight for freedom, and Americans usually get that.”
In the 2020 presidential election, Ohio voted for Donald Trump in favor of Joe Biden, 53.3% to 45.2%. The population of Ohio matches the demographic profile of a Republican voter. The 2020 census reported that 81.7% of the population are white, with an age above the US average, and with education levels below the national average. The state of Ohio is red-leaning but has Russia’s attack driven politics outside of the domestic agenda?
Incumbent Senator Robert Portman is retiring because of the “increasingly polarized” character of politics. The Senator is a co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Ukraine Caucus, assembled in 2015 to bond the political, military, economic, and cultural relationship between the US and Ukraine. Robert Portman has endorsed and campaigned with Jane Timken. But since the Russian invasion, Timken and other Republican candidates in the race for the US Senate midterm primary in Ohio have been criticized for their ties to Russia.
The Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken has shares in the family company Timken. The business has links with a Russian manufacturer and servicer of freight cars. A fellow primary candidate Vance tweeted: “No candidate has business ties in Russia except for Jane Timken. Her husband’s company has provided steel for their tanks, rail, and military.”
J.D. Vance, who also has financial interests in Russia, said in an interview: “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.” Vance, a venture capitalist, invested in the video platform Rumble, which was favored by Russia’s state-controlled news network RT. Vance’s campaign spokesperson said: “Rumble has consistently supported free speech on its platform, even speech it may find offensive.”
Senate Midterm Primary candidate Mike Gibbons is another candidate divorcing himself from dealings in Russia. Brown Gibbons Lang & Company, an investment bank involved in mergers and acquisitions, was involved in selling a Belarusian business to a Russian organization that specializes in pipes for the oil industry, including Gazprom.
Republican Josh Mandel also has a Russian association: a family real estate business was sold to Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov. Plus, he has accepted campaign contributions from Timken family members – the same people he has been criticizing.
Battles Amongst The Candidates
On March 18, a Republican Senate Primary Debate turned into a heated altercation and near-physical clash. Josh Mandel critcized Mike Gibbons’ financial dealings in his opening remarks. Soon, they were standing face to face yelling at each other. “Back off, buddy, or you’re going to end up….. ,” Gibbons threatened without explanation, “You’re dealing with the wrong dude” he continued as the presenter tried to keep them apart.
The episode demonstrates to voters just how confrontational politics have become, and following Trump’s lead, the candidates are no longer satisfied with just attacking the Democratic Party.
As moderate Ohioan Republicans examine the midterm Senate primary candidates, they might decide that it’s time to deviate to the left. Republicans have a party “leader” Donald Trump – who praised Putin as a “genius” and “savvy” for his Ukraine invasion, an incumbent Senator retiring because of polarized politics, a candidate announcing he does not care what happens to Ukraine, candidates in the primary who have benefitted from Russian business dealings, and leading candidates abusing one another on the campaign trail. Putin’s attack is still raging and all Ohioans desire is stability. When people cast a ballot on May 3, will the ongoing issues be reflected in reduced voter numbers for the Republican Midterm Primary and be a prediction for the November 8 election that political bettors could take advantage of?
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