The List: Predicting the next 10 months of Vance vs. Mandel

It’s going to be a wild and discomforting ride

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Author of "Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance announces his Senate bid at Middletown Tube Works in his hometown on July 1, 2021.

Earlier this month, venture capitalist and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance announced his intent to run for the Ohio senate seat being vacated by Rob Portman, joining a crowded Republican field that includes current leader Josh Mandel, Jane Timken (the former state party chair) and businessmen Bernie Moreno and Mike Gibbons. (On the Democratic side, Tim Ryan has emerged as the clear frontrunner in what looks to be a comparatively dull primary contest.)

In the weeks since making this announcement, Vance has made efforts to play to the base, attempting to walk back his past criticisms of former president Donald Trump and ramping up his Twitter attacks in an apparent effort to appeal to the same Republican primary voters that Mandel has been courting for months through an increasingly racist and divisive series of posts. 

Vance's entry coincides with news that Mandel’s outwardly toxic campaign might also be festering internally, with the Dispatch reporting that at least two fundraisers on Mandel’s team quit due to a toxic workplace created by Mandel’s romantic relationship with his campaign finance director. This, of course, hasn’t slowed Mandel from tossing out social media red meat, including a since-deleted tweet in which he cautioned his followers to watch out for Islamic legislators Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (wink, wink).

Not to be outdone, Vance has recently taken to Twitter to claim he has been shadow-banned by Google, which plays perfectly into the ongoing fear-mongering campaign right-wingers have waged around the idea that social media companies are de-platforming and silencing conservative voices, even as those voices continue to dominate in spaces like Facebook. With more posts like this, Vance will surely shore up his base, which up to this point appears to consist solely of wealthy investors, right-wing think tanks and the small handful of people who could stomach the Netflix adaptation of Hillbilly Elegy.

Anyway, here’s how we predict the campaigns will progress as Vance and Mandel continue to try and one-up each other in the run up to the Republican primary. Buckle up, folks. It could be a bumpy ride.

Early August

Trying to shake his venture capitalist stigma, Vance continues to grow a robust beard. The slight bump in interest from Al Borland fan groups brings his poll numbers up to a similarly robust 4 percent.

Late September

Vance launches a line of campaign-branded bootstraps, with which the poor can better pull themselves up. Within hours, Mandel releases a video of himself setting a pair of Vance bootstraps on fire in what again appears to be the outdoor stairwell of an apartment building.

Early October

Mandel tweets then deletes the 14 words, moments later reposting a slightly altered version of his original tweet, which has been edited just enough for him to argue plausible deniability and to again cast himself as a martyr being attacked and silenced by the “woke” left. Vance, still polling at 4 percent, releases a surreal video for “Mamaw Said Knock You Out,” in which he spars with and ultimately knocks out a Mandel-alike.

Late October

Vance entered into the race pledging to be a “smart fighter.” “There are a lot of fighters in Washington, D.C. They just fight for the wrong things,” he said. As if to prove his point, Vance posts his 119th tweet defending Tucker Carlson against what he perceives to be the talking head’s wrongful treatment at the hands of the liberal media. Meanwhile, Mandel, in the midst of a fundraising slump following his 14 words tweet debacle, decides to auction off his mask-burning video as an NFT. The video is purchased by an anti-masker who is hospitalized with the latest COVID variant before making payment.

Early November

Mandel, who has started polling slightly behind Timken, films a segment for Joe Rogan’s podcast in which he receives a full-back Trump tattoo while doing shirtless push-ups and reciting passages from Quillette magazine. Vance, in turn, posts a 236-tweet thread linking race with the “science” of phrenology. Interest from the so-called “intellectual dark web” generates enough campaign momentum to bring Vance's poll numbers up to a healthy 4 percent.

Early December

Vance, whose poll numbers remain unchanged, finally drops out of the race, delivering a speech that comes to be known as his “Hillbilly Eulogy.” Nobody watches it.

February 2022

Falling even further behind Timken, Mandel drops his campaign staff and replaces them with the Proud Boys. In public, the Northeast Ohio native, who has been known to slip into a Southern accent on occasion, begins speaking in what can only be described as an exaggerated impression of Donald Trump. Neither move reignites the flagging campaign.

March 2022

Mandel’s “Single White Female”-esque transformation into Trump now involves dyeing his hair and wearing lumpy pleated pants. But it happens so gradually that no one is taken aback or really even notices.

April 2022

Timken has officially run away with the Republican nomination. Vance continues to poll at 4 percent, despite having dropped out months earlier. Weirdly, no one has seen or heard from Mandel in almost five weeks. In seemingly unrelated news, Donald Trump has started to appear in public more regularly, looking far more youthful and vibrant than in even the earliest days of his presidency. This development is almost as hard to explain as Trump's new tendency to slip into a Southern accent whenever he speaks for crowds south of the Mason-Dixon...