COLUMBUS (AP) — Tuesday’s Ohio Republican primary will be one of the most closely watched and contentious in America. It will decide a race that is a referendum on President Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP. This comes as the midterm primary season kicks off in high gear.

JD Vance, author and venture capitalist, is well-positioned in the Republican race for Sen. Rob Portman received Trump’s support late on, capitling a bitter, expensive contest in which two candidates almost met on the debate stage. The winner will likely face Tim Ryan (10th term Democratic Rep.), who has distanced itself from the progressive wing in his party ahead of what is expected be a difficult year for Democrats trying to retain their congressional majorities.

Incumbent Republican Governor Mike DeWine seems on track to win his party’s nomination for another term despite opposition from conservatives regarding COVID-19 mandates and shutdowns. In Indiana, over a dozen members of the state House are fighting to stop Republican primary challengers who wish to push the Legislature further right.

Tuesday’s primary elections will mark the first multistate contest in the 2022 midterm seasons. They will be the most definitive test of Trump’s influence within his party over the past year, more than one year after he was removed from office by two impeachments. Trump would be encouraged to continue his primary campaigns in the hope of a potential presidential run by a Vance win. However, a setback would raise questions about whether GOP voters seek a new direction in a state that Trump won twice by margins 8 percentage points.

“A lot people want to find out whether Donald Trump’s endorsement actually means anything,” stated Mark R. Weaver (a long-time strategist for the GOP in states).

Vance was in the lead in the polls when the former president supported the “Hillbilly Elegy”, author and Trump critic in a contest that revolved around him. Although Trump’s endorsement came less than three weeks before Election Day, and early voting was underway, it had a significant impact on Vance, former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons, former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken who all went to great lengths to court Trump.

Matt Dolan, State Senator, was the only major candidate to not aggressively court Trump. This suggests that there is still a demand in the state for a non Trump alternative.

The race revealed deep divisions, while it showed how Trump has changed the party with candidates running in Trump’s image and using his “America First” platform. Vance’s endorsement was met with strong opposition by those who had backed Vance’s competitors, including the conservative Ohio Value Voters which asked supporters to boycott the rally Trump held last month.

According to Medium Buying, the race will be the most expensive in state history with over $66 million in radio and TV spending.

Ohio, once a bellwether, is now decidedly Republican. Ryan is highly favored to win his three way Democratic primary against progressive Morgan Harper. Harper is a former consumer protection lawyer and Columbus activist. Traci Johnson is a tech exec. Ryan, a long-serving congressman and 2020 presidential candidate, has been portrayed as a blue collar crusader fighting to support working families. He has campaigned in sweatshirts and baseball cap.

“He is passionate about fighting for Ohio,” stated Michigan Senator Gary Peters, who heads the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm. “Donald Trump is the only thing that Republican candidates seem to care about, and whether or not he will endorse them.”

The historical trends and the deep unpopularity of Democratic President Joe Biden have fueled Republicans’ optimism about winning the House and Senate in November. The party that is elected president almost always loses seats in the subsequent midterm elections. Republicans believe that high inflation, high energy prices, and the lingering frustrations about the country’s handling the COVID-19 pandemic will boost their chances of winning the House and Senate.

The Democrats are meanwhile banking on Trump’s support to elect Republicans so extreme that they will not be elected come November.

Dale Butland, a Democratic strategist from Ohio, stated that “By all right, history tells me that the Democrats will lose control of the House.” “By all rights we should also lose control of Senate.” The only thing that could save us, however, is for the Republicans to nominate far-right crazies who are not acceptable in a general elections.

David Niven, University of Cincinnati political science professor, said that the Ohio GOP had fundamentally changed. Moderates like Portman, who was once a Trump critic, were gradually being replaced by candidates who mocked the separation of church and state. Biden accused of trying to “kill Trump voters” with fentanyl and told lies about the 2020 election.

Niven stated, “Win or lose. This represents the last stand for the traditional Ohio Republican.”

DeWine is well-positioned to win another term. However, conservative backlash is likely to be strong against him for the COVID-19 mandates that he imposed in the first year of the pandemic. Former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and former state Rep. Ron Hood, as well as farmer Joe Blystone, have all tapped into this anger but are likely to split far-right votes. DeWine has invested millions in advertising and isn’t going to take chances. Trump-backed Secretary Of State Frank LaRose is also well-positioned to win.

Nan Whaley (the former mayor of Dayton) is running for the Democratic nomination to be Ohio’s first female governor. She will face ex-Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown is a well-known name and top Democrat in the state, who supports Whaley. Gloria Steinem, a feminist icon, has given her support to Cranley.

The House’s Republican Max Miller is a former Trump campaign aide and White House campaign manager. He is expected to win the GOP nomination in the new 7th District in northeast Ohio despite accusations from Stephanie Grisham (ex-White House press secretary) that he became violent with her after their relationship began to deteriorate. He denied the allegations.

Miller was originally recruited to challenge Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez. Gonzalez is one of 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment. Gonzalez decided to retire.

A rematch between one of the rising stars of the left and a new House incumbent will be another litmus test for the progressive movement’s rustbelt power. Rep. Shontel brown will be facing Nina Turner (an ex-state senator and progressive activist who she defeated in a special elections last year).

Colvin reported from Washington. This report was contributed by Steve Peoples, New York and Patrick Orsagas, Columbus Associated Press journalists.