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Tipsheet

The Republican Senate Primary Race in Ohio Is About to Get Crowded

AP Photo/Joe Maiorana

One of the races to watch next year is the U.S. Senate race out of Ohio. While Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, does have the incumbency advantage, he's also quite vulnerable in an increasingly red state. So far, the only Republican to announce a run against Brown is state Sen. Matt Dolan, who announced in January of this year. Another Republican is reportedly entering the race soon, though, businessman Bernie Moreno.

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On Tuesday morning, Moreno tweeted out a tease for "a BIG announcement!" to take place on the evening of April 18 in Milford, Ohio. 

Moreno ran in the 2022 primary to fill the seat left by then Sen. Rob Portman, a fellow Republican, but dropped out. He threw his support behind the victor, now Sen. JD Vance, who beat then-Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) last November. Moreno does not have political experience, but appears to be using that as an advantage. 

Another advantage for Moreno in the race is that he has the ability to self-fund, as was highlighted in news coverage leading up to the 2022 primary. An August 2021 report from Jewish Insider highlighted how Moreno had brought in $2.25 million, second only to self-funded Mike Gibbons. A report from Cleveland.com, also in August of that year, reported that "Moreno reported household assets worth $20.3 million to $93.1 million."

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As Henry J. Gomez described Moreno in his report for NBC News:

Moreno is the second prominent GOP prospect to launch a campaign for the party’s nomination to challenge Sen. Sherrod Brown, a three-term Democrat seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country. State Sen. Matt Dolan, another unsuccessful 2022 candidate, has had the field to himself since announcing his candidacy nearly three months ago.

A native of Colombia whose family emigrated to the U.S. when he was a child, Moreno is well-known in Cleveland’s civic circles, where his business interests have ranged from car dealerships to blockchain technology, and he has served on several boards.

There's also another potential advantage, which is Moreno's connection with former and potentially future President Donald Trump, a popular figure in Ohio who won in 2016 and 2020 by about 8 points. Trump endorsed Vance last April, which sent the now Senator's poll numbers surging and ultimately handed him wins in the primary and general election. Although Moreno had been critical of Trump in the past, like Vance had, his daughter worked on Trump's campaign and is married to Rep. Max Miller (R-OH), who was endorsed by Trump.

As Gomez adds:

Moreno’s halted 2022 bid came after a meeting with Trump, who was not planning to endorse him and wanted to prevent Dolan — the one candidate who wasn’t aggressively seeking his endorsement — from winning a plurality in the crowded field. Moreno had been a Trump skeptic himself during the 2016 election, at one point hoping for a "convention miracle," according to private correspondence obtained by NBC News in 2021.

But Moreno eventually warmed to Trump and has since grown closer with the former president. Moreno's daughter worked on Trump’s re-election campaign and is married to Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, another former Trump aide. And when now-Sen. JD Vance, the Trump-backed candidate, advanced to the general election in last year's race, Moreno played his Democratic opponent, former Rep. Tim Ryan, in debate preparations.

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Kurt Schlichter spoke positively of Moreno in a Townhall column from March 13:

I like Bernie Moreno, the car dealer magnate who dropped out last time to clear a path for JD Vance. I met him at CPAC. He’s cool. He’s based. He and my wife spoke to each other in Spanish and I think they were talking bad about me. His immigrant pro-American dream agenda is infectious – it’s genuine, and that’s hard to fake. He’s another candidate in that normal/competent frame that voters want right now. Yet he’s got no use for commie nonsense. Cool.

Dolan's weakness lies in opposing Trump. He finished third in last year's Republican primary, closely behind former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. Mainstream media outlets saw that as a bonus for Dolan, though evidently, the Ohio voters did not. Dolan, like Moreno, though, is also wealthy. 

In that same column, Kurt spoke out against Dolan by name, adding:

This is the guy who pearl-clutched over Trump in the 2022 primary and who changed the name of the Cleveland Indians to something stupid instead of telling the leftists where to shove their Louisville Sluggers. If you’re a rich guy and you fold like that, you’ll always fold. We don’t need a Mitt Romney with a baseball team. Nor do we need multiple retreads. Josh Mandel’s a good guy, but after losing so often he should take “No” for an answer.

Another candidate who is likely to enter the race is Secretary of State Frank LaRose. He too supported Vance's run last year and had the distinction of being the only sitting secretary of state whom Trump endorsed in 2022. LaRose won his race against Democrat Chelsea Clark by 20 points. 

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While at CPAC in March, LaRose told The Hill he is "actively" considering a run. LaRose was also mentioned by FiveThirtyEight's Alex Samuels, Geoffrey Skelley, and Nathaniel Rakich in March. 

As Skelley mentioned when discussing how Dolan was the only one in the race, "some major officeholders in Ohio are also eyeing this race, and they’re the ones to watch, especially Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who could be the toughest opponent Brown has faced since first defeating Mike DeWine for this seat in 2006 (DeWine was a senator back then; now he’s governor)." He also mentioned that "while Brown also won in 2018, he faced a very weak Republican opponent in then-Rep. Jim Renacci. So Brown may not be quite as much of an outperformer as some think."

Rakich referred to Ohio as one of "Republicans' best pickup opportunities," as well as West Virginia and Montana. While Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has not yet announced his intentions, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is indeed running for reelection, which might be the Democrats' best chance there. 

Ohio is just one state where Republicans have a real chance to improve their numbers for the Senate in 2024. Democrats gained one seat in 2022, with Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) replacing former Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who was retiring. 

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