In test of Trump’s clout, Ohio Republicans pick US Senate challenger

By Thomson Reuters Mar 19, 2024 | 5:01 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s sway over Ohio Republicans will be tested in the state’s U.S. Senate primary on Tuesday, when they decide whether to nominate a political newcomer backed by the former president to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown in November.

Republicans are looking to erase Democrats’ 51-49 majority in the chamber, and face a geographical advantage as Democrats are defending a half-dozen seats in competitive states including Ohio.

The state backed Trump in its last two presidential elections, and he won by eight percentage points in 2020. Republicans also hold many major statewide elected offices, both chambers of the state legislature and the other U.S. Senate seat, which is occupied by J.D. Vance.

Trump, the Republican challenger to Democratic President Joe Biden, has endorsed Bernie Moreno, an entrepreneur, in the primary, appearing at a campaign rally for Moreno on Saturday.

Moreno, who began his business career by buying a car dealership before branching out to other industries, has also garnered endorsements from Vance and U.S. Representative Jim Jordan, another lawmaker from Ohio and the powerful chairman of the House judiciary panel.

Many observers blamed Republicans’ failure to capture the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections in part to poor performance by untested Trump-backed candidates including television personality Mehmet Oz, who lost his Senate contest in Pennsylvania to Democrat John Fetterman.

Nationally, Republicans have largely avoided messy Senate primary contests this year, as clear favorites emerged early on in competitive states. Ohio has been a prominent exception.

Ohio’s Republican primary has drawn significant interest. The primary alone has drawn $48.3 million in ad spending, according to AdImpact, a firm that tracks political advertising.

While Moreno has held an edge in many of the polls, he faces stiff competition.

Matt Dolan, a state senator whose family owns Cleveland’s professional baseball team, is also seeking the nomination. Dolan has secured the endorsements of Mike DeWine, the state’s governor, and Rob Portman, the former U.S. senator for the state. Dolan’s backers say he is best positioned to take on Brown in the November election.

Frank LaRose, the Ohio’s secretary of state, is running for the seat too. Supporters of LaRose, who was endorsed by Trump in his run for secretary of state, say he has the most name recognition as a statewide elected official.

Brown, a moderate who heads the Senate banking panel, is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone and Deepa Babington)