Ohio GOP Senate primary offers an early test of Trump's endorsement strength

Ohio voters are at the polls Tuesday to choose a Republican challenger to incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. The competitive Senate seat in a red state is considered a must-win for Republicans who hope to regain control of the chamber in November.

The race will also serve as an early measure of how much Donald Trump’s MAGA seal of approval is worth in a year when Trump once again tops the Republican ticket.

Once a three-man race, by Tuesday the contest was down to two leading candidates: State Sen. Matt Dolan, who was endorsed by Ohio’s popular Republican governor, Mike DeWine. Businessman Bernie Moreno is a strong contender, boosted by an endorsement form Donald Trump.

Ohio, a largely white working-class state that has historically held purple-state status, has reddened over the past few years. In 2020, President Joe Biden became the first president since 1960 to win the presidential general election without winning Ohio.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose is also in the race, but LaRose has fallen behind in recent weeks, surrendering an early lead. Despite his name recognition, LaRose lost momentum in part because Dolan and Moreno were able to self-fund their own campaigns.

Dolan’s family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team. Moreno has made his multimillion dollar living as a car dealer and investor in blockchain technology.

The Trump test

Across the country, Republicans are closely watching the Buckeye State’s primary race for signs of Trump’s hold on Republican voters.

How Moreno fares Tuesday will offer an early test of whether or not Trump’s endorsement has appreciated in value since 2020 and 2022, when his handpicked candidates underperformed in key races.

In 2020, Trump lost reelection and Republicans lost both chambers of Congress. In 2022, Republicans won a slim majority in the House and lost Senate seats in red states with weak candidates.

Trump’s spotty track record provided a solid line of attack for his Republican presidential primary opponents, before he secured the nomination earlier this month.

“Under Trump, Republicans keep losing,” former presidential candidate Nikki Haley posted on X, before she dropped out of the race. “Let’s stop losing with Trump. Let’s make the GOP a winning party again.”

On Sunday, DeWine dodged questions about whether Trump’s Moreno endorsement would be enough to swing Tuesday’s primary in Moreno’s favor.

Spokespeople for the Moreno and Dolan campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Concerns about Moreno

Going into Tuesday’s election, a large pool of Ohio voters remained undecided.

On Saturday, Trump held a rally near Dayton, Ohio intended to give Moreno a pre-primary boost.

“Bernie is a fantastic guy. He’s getting some very tough Democrat fake treatment right now,” Trump said. “Don’t leave me alone, Bernie….Ohio needs [you] to defeat your horrendous radical left Democrat senator Sherrod Brown, who pretends he’s my best friend.”

Moreno’s campaign took a hit last week after the Associated Press reported that a 2008 account on the casual sex website Adult Friend Finder was linked to Moreno’s email account.

The profile linked to Moreno was reportedly seeking “Men for 1-on-1 sex,” according to the AP. Moreno has opposed LGBTQ+ rights, said his lawyer says a former intern of Moreno’s created the dating account as a “prank.”

Nonetheless, the burgeoning scandal has raised new questions about whether Moreno — who has never held public office — would be able to unseat Brown come November.

Democrats have seized on the headwinds facing Moreno, In the days leading up to Tuesday’s primary, Democratic political groups have poured millions of dollars into ads that seek to boost Moreno over Dolan.

Democrats “obviously think that Dolan is the strongest candidate, so that’s why I’m supporting Matt Dolan,” DeWine said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union”.

“Ohio is maybe one of the states that decides who controls the United States Senate. So there’s a lot at stake in this election,” said DeWine.

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