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  /  News   /  Vance sees rising odds in race to be Trump VP

Vance sees rising odds in race to be Trump VP

This is part of The Hill’s ongoing series looking at Donald Trump’s possible vice-presidential picks.

Less than a month after he was sworn in to his first ever political office, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) already had a crisis on his hands.

A train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, Vance’s home state, sending flames and black smoke into the air and triggering a massive clean-up process that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Within weeks Vance had accompanied former President Trump to the site of the derailment and introduced legislation with fellow Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) to improve safety protocols and prevent future derailments like the one in their home state.

“You want to talk about a moment that just crystalizes why you’re there,” said one Vance ally. “It was very much a trial by fire, and I think he passed it with flying colors.”

Vance, 39, has had a rapid rise in the political arena. 

He is a native Ohioan who enlisted in the Marines and graduated from Yale Law School. He gained national attention with his memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” which depicted his upbringing and family history of poverty and addiction in Appalachia and offered his insights on the white working class and the causes and effects of economic insecurity.

Vance won a Senate seat in 2022, his first run for political office, and has quickly emerged as a face of the New Right and the MAGA movement in Congress. He has been outspoken about his opposition to continued U.S. aid for Ukraine but has also reached across the aisle to unlikely collaborators like Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Now, his conservative, populist views, his willingness to fiercely defend those views and the relationship he has built with the former president and Donald Trump Jr. have placed him squarely in the running to be Trump’s running mate.

“I view him as the future of our party, the most articulate populist conservative voice in our country, and believe that he’d make a great vice president,” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who is running for Senate in Indiana, told The Hill in an interview.

Those close to Vance said the senator and the former president are well aligned on policy, and some suggested Trump likely appreciates how Vance is unapologetic about his views and is willing to take the fight to mainstream media outlets like CNN and CBS.

“Not only has J.D. been a leader for the America First policy agenda in the Senate, he has been a courageous warrior for my father defending him from all of the leftwing lawfare coming from the Swamp,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a statement to The Hill. “While too many Republicans are weak and crumble when things get tough, J.D. has a spine of steel and isn’t afraid to fight.”

Vance’s position as a top Trump ally and vice-presidential contender may surprise some given his past comments about the former president. Vance during the 2016 campaign called then-candidate Trump “noxious” and “reprehensible” and posted a since-deleted tweet calling Trump an “idiot.” 

Those comments were central to a roughly $1 million attack ad campaign during the 2022 GOP Senate primary in Ohio launched by groups backing Vance’s rival, Josh Mandel.

Vance, who ultimately earned Trump’s endorsement in that bitter primary race, has been candid about the evolution of his views about Trump.

“My view on Donald Trump, I have been very clear on this, is, look, I was wrong about him,” Vance said in a recent CNN interview. “I didn’t think he was going to be a good president…and I was very, very proud to be proven wrong. It’s one of the reasons why I’m working so hard to get him elected.”

Sources close to Vance and Trump acknowledged there may have been some early skepticism from the former president. But they said Vance’s sincerity about his change in views and his loyalty to the former president in recent years has helped solidify their relationship.

“I think it says more about Donald Trump than anybody,” said Banks, who Vance has endorsed in his Senate race. “He’s forgiven a lot of Republicans for what they said in 2016 or even 2017, and as president he proved himself. He won a lot of us over.”

Despite being one of the faces of the America First movement in the Senate, Vance has been eager to work across the aisle on certain issues, something his allies said underscores his desire to get things done for his constituents. 

He has introduced legislation with Brown, Baldwin, Warren, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), among others.

He has garnered the most attention, however, as a leading opponent to additional funding for Ukraine in its war against Russia. Vance has won plaudits from many Republicans for being the most articulate voice among conservatives who want to end U.S. intervention in the war.

“Sixty billion dollars is a fraction of what it would take to turn the tide in Ukraine’s favor,” Vance wrote in an April New York Times op-ed, as the Senate considered a national security supplemental that has since been signed into law. “But this is not just a matter of dollars. Fundamentally, we lack the capacity to manufacture the amount of weapons Ukraine needs us to supply to win the war.”

Vance has in recent weeks made more headlines for downplaying the threat to former Vice President Mike Pence during the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol and for saying he would accept the 2024 election results, “if we have a free and fair election.” Both comments came during CNN interviews, and both echoed rhetoric Trump has used.

And in a sign of Vance’s loyalty to the former president, the Ohio senator made an appearance outside the courthouse in May to blast Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, who was on the stand as part of the trial looking at an alleged hush money scheme paid to an adult film actress. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) were among the other potential vice-presidential candidates to swing through New York during the trial.

As Vance’s name has increasingly come up as a potential Trump running mate, the senator has repeatedly said he has not spoken with Trump about the possibility of joining the ticket and that he is interested in helping the former president however he can.

Vance has young children, and allies said the senator will prioritize his family when making any decisions about his political future.

“He will serve in whatever capacity in a second Trump administration where he can do the most,” a Vance ally told The Hill. “He likes the Senate. He’s good at being a senator. If it’s to be VP and be ready or to be an advocate, he’s ready to do that.”