The GOP might have just found its next celebrity politician.
Venture capitalist and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance reportedly told colleagues that he was probably planning to run for Senate in Ohio next year, Axios reported Thursday. But rumors about his political candidacy have been circulating for weeks.
Last month, tech billionaire Peter Thiel—whom Vance worked for previously at Mithril Capital—gave $10 million to Protect Ohio Values, a super PAC that is supporting Vance, ahead of next year’s race to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman. The conservative Mercer family, which has financially backed Breitbart, also gave the PAC an undisclosed amount, a spokesperson for the PAC told Forbes last month.
Though Vance has never run for political office before, his origin story is well known. After growing up in poverty in Appalachia, Vance eventually graduated from Yale Law School, and later worked for Thiel in Silicon Valley.
He released a memoir in June 2016, which was hailed by the mainstream press at the time as providing an explanation for, among other things, Donald Trump’s popularity in Appalachia and the decline of rural America. Last year, the book was turned into a Netflix movie starring Amy Adams as Vance’s mother and Glenn Close as his grandmother.
But Vance’s reading of the problems plaguing Appalachia, were rooted in what he perceives as a lack of personal responsibility, a defining pillar of the Republican Party’s approach to poverty for decades.
“I believe we hillbillies are the toughest goddamned people on this earth,” Vance wrote in his book. “But are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children? Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us.”
Vance has criticized Trump in the past, calling the former president an “idiot” and describing himself as “not a Trump guy” in a now-deleted tweet, according to a report last month by the Washington Examiner. But over the past few years, Vance seems to have embraced the Republican Party’s populist right-wing, and cozied up to figures like Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
In one particularly startling tweet earlier this week, Vance called out “establishment Republican apologies for our oligarchy” as being paid for by “Big Tech.” That was a strange stance to take for a man who previously worked for Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and early Facebook investor, who is also bankrolling Vance’s political ambitions.
The field to replace Portman’s Senate seat in Ohio next year is already getting crowded. Aside from Vance’s likely candidacy, Trump-friendly former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken, and former Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel, have already announced their candidacies. Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers is also reportedly considering a run.
On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan is publicly weighing a run. NBA legend LeBron James was asked earlier this year; he said no.