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In neighboring red states, GOP Senate candidates offer different visions for 2024

Party’s contrasts seen in pitches from Banks in Indiana, Dolan in Ohio

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., announced Tuesday he will run for Senate in Indiana next year.
Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., announced Tuesday he will run for Senate in Indiana next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

They’re both Republicans from reliably red, neighboring Midwestern states who launched Senate campaigns on Tuesday.

But Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana and state Sen. Matt Dolan of Ohio reflect different visions of the future of the Republican Party. 

Banks, a four-term congressman from northeastern Indiana, highlighted a confrontational conservative message that leans heavily into culture war issues as he announced his bid for the seat GOP Sen. Mike Braun is giving up to run for governor.

“I’ve led the fight on the House floor to keep girls’ sports for girls and to protect the unborn. And I’ve used my position on the House Armed Services and Education committees to stop critical race theory and anti-Americanism from being taught in our schools and pushed on our troops,” he said in a video announcing his run for the open seat. “I’ve led the fight in Congress to hold China accountable for stealing our jobs and for giving us COVID.”

Next door in Ohio, Dolan, an attorney whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, emphasized his ability to get things done while painting his opponent, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, as a left-wing ideologue.

“Ohioans want a problem solver who has successfully faced big challenges impacting our quality of life, not the political blame game that lacks commonsense solutions,” he said in announcing his run. “I have a proven conservative record of success that has yielded results for Ohio families, workers and businesses.”

Dolan speaks to reporters after his primay loss to J.D. Vance on May 3, 2022 in Independence, Ohio. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

The different approaches taken by the two candidates illustrate deep rifts within the GOP, a party that is coming off a tumultuous leadership fight in the House of Representatives and disappointing midterm election cycle. 

But Republicans have a favorable Senate map in 2024 and hope to regain the majority in the chamber. Defeating Brown, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Ohio, is key to that effort.

While certainly no liberal — in his campaign message, he spoke of border security, support for police and fighting inflation — Dolan has cast himself as a can-do pragmatist in the mold of former Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and the state’s current GOP governor, Mike DeWine.

Matt Borges, the former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said Dolan appears to be trying to reach suburban voters by emphasizing competence along with a conservative message. “People are looking for someone who’s rolling up their sleeves and getting ready to go to work,” said Borges, who emphasized that he does not speak for Dolan’s campaign.

Dolan, who ran for Senate in 2022 but came in third in the GOP primary despite loaning his campaign about $10 million, has expressed support for Donald Trump’s policies. But he also criticized the former president for spreading lies about the 2020 election, and his statement on Tuesday said it was time to “reject fictional grievances.”

“He wasn’t anti-Trump at all, but he wasn’t playing to that crowd,” Borges said. (The eventual winner of the race, venture capitalist and author J.D. Vance, was initially a Trump critic but later sought, and won, the former president’s endorsement.)

Borges said Dolan’s style and message resonate with suburban voters. “You talk to a lot of women who have voted Republican in Ohio and they loathe Trump,” Borges said. “And not just women but suburban voters in general. But if you ask them about the Trump economy, they all say it couldn’t have been better.”

Trump’s political footprint is easier to measure in neighboring Indiana, where Banks has unabashedly embraced Trump, calling him “the strongest president of my lifetime” in his campaign video.

Trump, whose vice president was former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, won the Hoosier State by more than 15 percentage points in 2020, far greater than his 8-point victory in Ohio.

“Former President Trump’s policies and former President Trump are still very popular in Indiana,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, R.-Ind.

But Bucshon, who has endorsed Banks, said voters will ultimately choose a Senate candidate based on their own vision, not whether or not they back Trump.

Jim Banks is the right person for the job — he has a conservative record and we’re a conservative state,” Bucshon said. “He’s a family man and a veteran, he’s 100 percent pro-life, he’s fiscally conservative. His message will ring true with Republican Party voters and in the general election in my state.”

Banks was quickly endorsed by the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group whose president, David McIntosh, said in a statement it was “prepared to spend whatever it takes to help Banks secure the nomination and victory.”

Both Banks and Dolan will likely face additional GOP opponents. In Ohio, Secretary of State Frank LaRose is another potential GOP contender, as is businessman Bernie Moreno, who also ran in 2022. In Indiana, Banks is the first candidate to enter the Senate race, but several other high-profile Republicans are considering bids, including Rep. Victoria Spartz and current Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is term-limited from running for reelection. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels is also weighing a run.

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