Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The weekend suspension of a troubled congressional campaign in northwest Ohio has eased the minds of establishment Republicans hopeful they can flip a Democratic seat this fall by defeating the longest-serving woman in Congress.

Erstwhile Republican candidate J.R. Majewski paused his campaign Saturday, just three days after he had insisted he was staying in the race for Ohio's 9th Congressional District. The about-face was the latest turn in a roller coaster of a GOP primary for the seat long held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

Kaptur, 77, who has served in Congress since 1983, is viewed as being among the nation’s most vulnerable House Democrats this year. She beat Majewski by 13 points two years ago.

“It's been a great ride,” Majewski declared on X, formerly known as Twitter, as he left the race and pledged to devote his energy to electing Donald Trump this fall.

Majewski suggested his adversaries were getting ready to resurface reports that arose in 2022 regarding his military service, which would have piled onto new pressure he was facing over remarks he made on a podcast disparaging Special Olympics athletes. Indeed, a new Ohio Truth PAC was planning $373,000 in attack ads against Majewski, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

“J.R. Majewski's decision puts the team first, allowing Republicans to unite and focus on defeating Marcy Kaptur,” Mike Marinella, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said in a statement. “Now, Marcy Kaptur's retirement notice is in the mail.”

Unity isn't quite the word as yet, though. Republican loyalties remain divided between the camps of state Rep. Derek Merrin, a latecomer to the contest backed by U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, and former state Rep. Craig Riedel, who still enjoys the backing of pro-Trump U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan and other key area Republicans.

Merrin was recruited after comments came to light where Riedel criticized Trump as “arrogant” and said he may not endorse him. This was seen as highly damaging in a state that has twice strongly supported Trump for president, though Riedel more recently took steps to advance himself as a Trump supporter. The faceoff was among those Johnson discussed with Trump during a meeting at Mar-a-Lago in February.

Both Merrin and Riedel are viewed by party leadership as more viable than Majewski against Kaptur in a general election match-up. Still, the lateness of Majewski's departure from the contest complicates matters.

Early voting in Ohio has been underway for weeks in what is shaping up to be a low-turnout election. Majewski had amassed significant conservative star power that he said positioned him as a frontrunner. That included endorsements from Trump-backed U.S. Sen. JD Vance, Gen. Michael Flynn, Rep. Matt Gaetz and former presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy.

As of Monday, his name remained on ballots and, according to the Lucas County Board of Elections, Majewski had not yet filed paperwork to withdraw his candidacy. He has already entered and exited the race twice, raising questions over whether this decision is final.

Besides Riedel and Merrin, former Mayor Steve Lankenau is also competing for the nomination.

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