Bob Paduchik will serve as the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An experienced campaigner for former President Donald Trump and top Ohio Republican took the helm of the state party Friday, pledging to strengthen the party’s performance in Democrat-heavy urban counties headed into the 2022 elections.

Trump endorsed Bob Paduchik over a far-right challenger to succeed Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken, who resigned to run for U.S. Senate. He called the man who ran his successful 2016 and 2020 campaigns in the state “outstanding in every way.” Trump won Ohio both times by more than 8 percentage points.

But Paduchik’s challenger for the party’s top job, former state Rep. John Becker, cast him as an establishment-backing insider saddled with too much baggage.

“I’m the regular guy,” Becker told State Central Committee members in a meeting held jointly in person and online. “I don’t have extensive tentacles with family members and multiple organizations and multiple campaigns going back to the beginning of time.”

Becker may have been referring to the fact that Paduchik made calls in support of House Bill 6, a $1 billion nuclear bailout bill now at the center of the largest federal racketeering case in state history, telling state lawmakers Trump wanted the now-tainted legislation to pass. His younger brother, Jason, is a lobbyist for Energy Harbor, a former FirstEnergy subsidiary that would stood to benefit from the legislation.

Dave Johnson, the committee member who nominated Paduchik, lauded his skill, character and qualifications — and said he can unite the party ahead of “the most challenging set of elections that we have seen in a decade or more.”

Johnson cited Paduchik’s work electing Presidents Trump and George W. Bush, Govs. Mike DeWine and Bob Taft and Sen. Rob Portman.

“There is nobody in this state that has a better record of managing and winning elections than Bob,” he said.

Backers of Becker’s candidacy said average Republicans want the party to start backing more conservative candidates.

“Strong, conservative, red, grassroots Republicans, they want a voice, and they want to be heard,” said committee member Joe Miller. “Ohio’s a big diverse state, but at the heart of it is a conservative base that Donald Trump ignited. Trump won Ohio because of the conservative patriots, let’s not forget that. We’re a red state, not purple, and this party has to represent a red state.”

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel was delivering a similar message at the Conservative Political Action Committee gathering in Orlando, Fla.

The former state treasurer attacked DeWine’s efforts to counter the COVID-19 virus outbreak as “authoritarian” and unconstitutional and called DeWine a “RINO,” or Republican in name only.

DeWine brushed off Mandel’s comments as politics, saying “he’s running for office … he says what he says.”

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