Living with Trump? Some GOP candidates aren’t thrilled about it.

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Former President Donald Trump takes the stage in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on September 3, 2022, to rally support for Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate candidate. (Hannah Beier/The New York Times)

Former President Donald Trump is preparing to invade Ohio on Saturday to rally the Republicans behind JD Vance in a key Senate race. Two weeks ago, he did the same for Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania.

Neither candidate invited him.

Instead, aides to the former president simply informed Senate campaigns that he was coming. Never mind that, while viewed heroically by many Republicans, Trump still hates pivotal swing voters.

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The question of how to handle Trump has so haunted some Republican Senate candidates that they have held private meetings about how best to handle his team’s inevitable calls, according to strategists familiar with the discussions.

This uneasy state of affairs reflects the twists and turns many Republican candidates go through as they leave the primary season behind and head for the general election, when the Democrats try to tie them to the former president.

In New Hampshire, Don Bolduc won the Republican Senate nomination on Tuesday after a primary campaign in which he unequivocally reiterated Trump’s false claims about election fraud in 2020. Just two days later, he turned himself in and told TBEN News, “I want to be final on this: The election wasn’t stolen.”

Some of Trump’s chosen candidates, after plastering his likeness in campaign literature and proclaiming his seal of approval in television ads during the primaries, are now distancing themselves, backing down from his positions or scrubbing their websites of his name.

The moves reflect a complicated political calculation for Republican campaigns, which seek to exploit the energy Trump generates among his supporters — some of whom rarely make it to the polls unless it has to vote for him — without arousing TBEN voters needed to run elections. to win in battlefield states.

In North Carolina, Bo Hines, a Republican House candidate who won his primary in May after proudly highlighting Trump’s support, has removed the former president’s name and image from his campaign site. A campaign official described the move as part of an overhaul of the website to prioritize matters important to voters in general elections.

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But Trump’s endorsement continues to feature prominently on Hines’ social media accounts. Reached by phone, the 27-year-old candidate said he planned to attend a Trump rally in the state next week and then broke off the call.

In Wisconsin, Tim Michels, the Republican nominee for governor, erased from his campaign homepage that Trump had backed him — but then reinstated it after the change was reported, saying it had been a mistake.

“The optimal scenario for Republicans is for Trump to remain at a distance — supportive, but not in a way that overshadows the candidate or the contrast,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist and former top National Republican Senatorial Committee aide.

Donovan, as well as advisers and staffers who work for Trump-backed Senate candidates, said the former president could be very helpful, if he wanted to, by providing support from his powerful fundraising machine.

“A big part of the problem is that these nominees came from messy fields where the party was slow to unite,” Donovan said. “But to fix what’s wrong, these GOP candidates don’t need a Trump rally, it’s a MAGA money bomb.”

Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesman, said in a statement that the “name and likeness of the former president were responsible for the unprecedented success of the GOP’s small fundraising programs,” and that he “has the success of the Republican Party.”

Budowich added: “His rallies, which serve as the most powerful political weapon in American politics, bring in new voters and invaluable media coverage.”

But linking guns to the former president could pose problems for candidates in close-knit races.

Although he has been out of office for nearly 20 months, Trump has been constantly in the headlines because of the mounting criminal and congressional investigations into his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, his refusal to reveal sensitive government documents he took to his home in Florida and whether he and his family have fraudulently inflated the value of their assets.

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On Thursday, when asked about the possibility of being charged in the document investigation, Trump told a conservative radio host there would be “problems in this country like we may never have seen before.”

Polls suggest these controversies could take their toll. Of independent voters, 60% said they had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, compared with 37% who had a favorable opinion, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released this week. President Joe Biden was also among these key voters, but by a much narrower margin of 8 percentage points.

When asked whether Trump had “committed serious federal crimes,” 62% of independent voters said they believed he had, and 53% said he threatened American democracy with his actions after the 2020 election.

Republican candidates appear to be aware of such sentiments and shy away from Trump’s fixation on the 2020 election. While he has said electoral fraud is the number one problem in the midterm elections, polls show voters are far more concerned about economic issues. and abortion rights.

Three days after Trump’s Pennsylvania meeting, Oz, the Republican Senate nominee, told reporters that he would have defied the former president and voted to certify the 2020 presidential election.

Oz, a former TV personality, leaned on Trump’s approval to win a bitter primary. He has since removed prominent endorsement mentions from his campaign website and has swapped out his social media’s Trump-themed branding.

Republican campaigners said they wouldn’t turn down Trump’s aid right away, but accepting it created a whole host of other problems: For example, where could a rally be held to revive the conservative grassroots while the damage among independents is reduced. minimized?

When Trump’s team called to say the former president wanted to come back to Pennsylvania this month for a rally, Oz’s campaign led him to Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County. The county was one of three to vote for Barack Obama twice and go to Trump in 2016. It was also the only one of those three counties to support Trump again in 2020. The other two – Erie and Northampton – supported Biden.

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Trump’s Ohio meeting on Saturday will be his third visit to the state since he left office — more than any other state to date. He twice won Ohio, a longtime presidential battlefield, by 8 percentage points.

This year, his approval of Vance’s Senate bid is widely seen as the clearest example of his lasting political influence. Vance, an author and venture capitalist, trailed behind in the polls before Trump backed him with just over two weeks left in the race. Vance won the crowded primary by nearly 10 points.

For Saturday’s rally, Vance’s team sent Trump to Youngstown, a working-class area that had been a Democratic stronghold until he ran for president. The rally, at the 6,000-seat Covelli Center, is also represented squarely in the congressional district by Tim Ryan, the Democrat battling Vance.

The event will begin at the same time as the kickoff for an Ohio State University football game. Buckeyes games regularly draw large crowds across the state, and Saturday’s game is against the University of Toledo, an in-state team.

The timing was not considered ideal by either Vance’s campaign or Trump’s team, and Trump was ultimately consulted on the decision, according to people familiar with the discussions. Ultimately, the two sides decided it was more important to hold the rally on a Saturday night, when Trump has the easiest chance of drawing a large audience.

Ohio politicians have long tried to avoid competing for attention with Ohio state football games. In an interview, Ryan said that holding a meeting at the same time suggested that Vance — an Ohio state graduate — was out of touch with the “cultural things” that are important to Ohioans.

“It just says a lot,” Ryan said. “These little things sometimes reveal a lot more about a candidate than it seems.”

In a statement, Vance called his rival “a radical liberal” and said, “The only person who has no contact with Ohio is Tim Ryan.”

Ryan is also involved in a similar dance around his party leadership as Biden himself struggles with low approval ratings.

When asked if he would campaign with the president this fall, even if not at a Buckeyes game, Ryan said, “No. Uh-uh.”

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