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Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP special election primary in Ohio's 15th District, AP projects

The Republican race was closely watched in its final days after the loss last week of a Trump-endorsed candidate in a special House election in Texas.
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CLEVELAND — Mike Carey, a coal industry lobbyist endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has won the Republican primary in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, The Associated Press projected Tuesday.

The race was closely watched in its final days after a Trump-endorsed candidate lost in a special House election in Texas last week. A Carey loss would have raised further questions about Trump’s ability to steer a stable future for the GOP.

“Tonight, Republicans across Ohio’s 15th Congressional District sent a clear message to the nation that President Donald J. Trump is, without a doubt, the leader of our party,” Carey said in his victory statement. “I could not be more grateful for his support, and I am proud to deliver this win to advance his America First agenda.”

Carey will face state Rep. Allison Russo, who The Associated Press projected Tuesday won the Democratic nomination, in November.

The seat opened in May, when Republican Rep. Steve Stivers resigned for a job in the private sector. The district stretches from the Columbus suburbs into rural southeastern Ohio.

Since he left office in January, Trump has encouraged speculation that he might run for president again in 2024 and has worked to assert his influence by endorsing in messy GOP primaries and pushing his own policy agenda.

In Texas, however, Rep. Jake Ellzey, a former state legislator, beat Trump-backed candidate Susan Wright for the 6th Congressional District seat that had been represented by Wright’s late husband. And Senate Republicans have so far ignored his threats of “lots of primaries” for those who compromise with Democrats on an infrastructure spending deal. Carey’s victory spared Trump another high-profile political embarrassment and showed that his endorsement carries weight.

Trump went all-out for Carey, giving him time on stage at a rally in June far outside the district in Wellington, Ohio. Corey Lewandowski, a Trump adviser, steered financial help through the Make America Great Again Action group he runs. The group poured in at least $350,000 in last-minute spending to boost Carey, including text messages and digital and TV advertising.

“Great Republican win for Mike Carey. Big numbers! Thank you to Ohio and all of our wonderful American patriots," Trump said in a statement Tuesday night.

The Ohio 15th, like the Texas 6th, might be an imperfect measure of Trump’s coattails. Special elections, especially in the middle of summer, can be low-turnout affairs — and local dynamics can be a factor no matter how nationalized a Trump endorsement can make them.

Stivers, who practiced a more moderate style of Republicanism in the Trump era, endorsed state Rep. Jeff LaRe and drew from his still-flush House campaign fund to run ads making his choice known.

Several of Carey’s other rivals also had strong constituencies in the district that earned them shares of the primary vote. State Sen. Bob Peterson boasted an endorsement list of state legislative and local officeholders from across the district. State Sen. Stephanie Kunze had the backing of the Franklin County Republican Party — the district’s largest.

And with such a large field, some Trump allies worried that the pro-Trump vote would be fractured among other candidates who boasted endorsements from Trump-friendly wings of the party. A political action committee affiliated with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., invested heavily to support Ron Hood, a former state legislator. Debbie Meadows, the wife of former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, backed Ruth Edmonds, a former Columbus NAACP president.

As other outside groups, such as the Paul PAC, got more involved in the race and the danger of losing another special election became more pronounced, Trump reiterated his support for Carey several times.

“A lot of people are watching this one,” Trump said in a "telerally” call that Carey’s campaign hosted for voters Monday night, on the eve of the primary. “It's a big deal.”