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After rally with Trump, Moreno wins Ohio GOP nod to face Brown

Senate Democrats may have helped with ads attacking him as too conservative

Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno speaks before a large projected photo of Donald Trump at the Columbiana County Lincoln Day Dinner in Salem, Ohio, on Friday.
Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno speaks before a large projected photo of Donald Trump at the Columbiana County Lincoln Day Dinner in Salem, Ohio, on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Trump-backed businessman Bernie Moreno withstood a late blitz of negative ads and emerged victorious Tuesday in Ohio’s tumultuous Republican Senate primary, edging out state Sen. Matt Dolan, the favorite of the GOP establishment, and Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Moreno had 41.5 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race at 8:35 p.m. Eastern time. He will face Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of the most vulnerable Democrats, in November.

Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance, who campaigned with Moreno, congratulated him on the X social media platform, calling the nominee “a great patriot.”

Moreno appears to be the challenger Democrats wanted to take on. A super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., ran an ad portraying Moreno as a close Trump ally who is “too conservative for Ohio.” While the ad looked like an attack, it could have boosted Moreno’s standing against Dolan and LaRose, who had 36 percent and 22 percent, respectively, when the race was called.

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Unlike Republicans in other battlegrounds, the Ohio GOP failed to unite around a candidate. The fractured field featured Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team; LaRose, who started the race with the highest name recognition and the strongest poll numbers but saw his edge evaporate; and Moreno, a former car dealership owner and tech executive who has never held elective office and who secured the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.

At a rally in Dayton on Saturday afternoon, Trump praised Moreno as an “America First champion” while mocking Dolan as “a weak RINO,” or Republican in name only, who’s “trying to become the next Mitt Romney.” Romney, R-Utah, was one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump after his second impeachment trial in 2021.

Dolan had the backing of two prominent members of the Buckeye State’s GOP establishment, Gov. Mike DeWine and former Sen. Rob Portman. But that apparently wasn’t enough to offset the Trump factor: The former president won Ohio by about 8 percentage points in both 2016 and 2020 and he remains a popular figure.

Dolan had put $9 million of his own money into the race and Moreno $4.2 million through Feb. 28, the closing date of the most recent filing to the Federal Election Commission. Since then, Dolan added $1.2 million and Moreno added $300,000.

And outside groups that have to file reports within days of making expenditures have spent more than $26 million, most of it on negative messages. Through Friday, $3.1 million was spent against Dolan, $4 million against LaRose and $9.2 million against Moreno.

Brown did not face a primary opponent and had $13.5 million on hand as of Feb. 28.

Last week, The Associated Press reported that an email address of Moreno, who has embraced anti-LGBTQ positions, was used to create an account on a website for casual sexual encounters seeking “men for 1-on-1 sex.”

Moreno’s campaign said the account was the work of a former intern, who created it as part of a prank. 

Within a day of the AP story’s publication, the explosive report found its way into a TV ad funded by a super PAC supporting Dolan. 

Katie Smith, a spokeswoman for Ohio Democrats, said Moreno is a flawed candidate.

“Whether by refusing to pay his employees the overtime they’d earned and deliberately shredding evidence to cover it up, promising to put in place a national abortion ban that would overturn the will of Ohioans, or coming out against the bill to crack down on fentanyl coming from China and Mexico, Moreno has already shown he will not fight for Ohioans,” Smith said in a statement.

Amounts candidates gave or loaned to their campaigns were corrected in this report.

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