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'Hillbilly Elegy' author J.D. Vance tells Tanya O'Rourke why he decided to run for Senate

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Posted at 10:10 PM, Jul 02, 2021

When WCPO news anchor Tanya O’Rourke interviewed author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance in 2017, he was fresh off the decision not to run for Senate the year before. People had wanted him to, he said. He didn't. His family, investment firm and nonprofit kept him too busy.

He'd found room in his schedule by Thursday night, when Vance returned to his birthplace of Middletown to announce a bid for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Rob Portman. It'll be a competitive race — other Republicans hoping to score the same job include longtime Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken and former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, one of Twitter's most vocal Trump fans.

O’Rourke sat down with Vance again to find out what changed his mind. Why now?

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“I recognize that if you actually want to get anything done, you got to go in there and blow some things up,” he said. “I also think I have a desire to actually get things done. You know, I’m a political outsider. I’ve never run for political office before.”

He was initially critical of former President Donald Trump in 2016 but has since changed his mind about that, too.

“I think he delivered on his promises to make the country a better place,” Vance said. “So, I think I saw this guy, he was an outsider. I didn’t really believe he was serious. And then I saw the guy in action. And I thought he was a successful president. That’s why I supported him enthusiastically in 2020. I didn't hide from that fact, either that I was critical of them in 2016, or that I was a big supporter in 2020. So I changed because he did a good job.”

The two met a few months ago to discuss the race.

“He’s not gonna endorse anybody in this race early on,” Vance said of his meeting with Trump. “I think he wants to let the candidates fight it out.”

Vance is running on a platform of bringing jobs to Ohio and taking on big tech, even though he’s received $10 million from a super PAC formed by billionaire PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

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Vance also said he supports a universal voter ID.

“First of all, we do want, I think, universal voter ID because it's just common sense election integrity," he said. "A majority of people, Democratic, Republican, all racial groups support common sense voter ID, so I think we should have it."

"And absolutely, if people can't afford to get an ID, you don't want that to prevent them from being able to vote. You want to make it easier for people to vote, but you want to make it easier for them to vote in a fair and safe way. You want basically legal votes to count, illegal votes not to count, and making voter ID the law, that way it actually I think facilitates and supports that goal."

In addition to Timken and Mandel, Vance will face two Cleveland businessmen, Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno, in next year's GOP primary.