Here’s Where Contentious Ohio GOP Primary Stands On Eve Of Voting

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Mary Lou Masters Contributor
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  • Trump-backed businessman Bernie Moreno, state Sen. Matt Dolan and Secretary of State Frank LaRose are competing for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio on Tuesday.
  • The race has recently tightened between Moreno and Dolan, with LaRose slipping to third after holding a steady, early lead, according to polling data.
  • “Moreno had the momentum until recently, when Dolan’s spending outpaced the field,” Mark Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist based in Ohio, told the DCNF. “This is now a close race but the bad news for Sherrod Brown is that any one of these Republicans can and will defeat him in November.”

The Ohio GOP Senate primary to decide who will take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown has shaped up to be a competitive race between three prominent Republicans as voters head to the polls on Tuesday.

Brown is one of the Democrats most vulnerable senators in the 2024 cycle, along with Montana Sen. Jon Tester — both of whom hold seats in red states that went for former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, in 2016 and 2020. Polling indicates the race will be tight between Trump-backed businessman Bernie Moreno and state Sen. Matt Dolan, with Secretary of State Frank LaRose following closely behind.

Dolan was the first of the three to jump in the primary on Jan. 17, 2023, followed by Moreno in early April and LaRose in mid-July. (RELATED: Third Quarter Fundraising Totals Show Contentious Cash Dash In Key Senate Race)

Both Dolan and Moreno ran in the primary for the seat now-held by Republican Sen. J.D. Vance in the 2022 midterms. Moreno suspended his campaign before election day, and Dolan came in third place.

LaRose had been leading the small field in polling for the majority of the cycle, according to FiveThirtyEight’s survey compilation. The race tightened between the three in December, and Moreno took the lead on March 1.

Emerson College’s final poll on the race released Monday found Moreno with 44% support, followed by Dolan at 40% and LaRose at 16%.

However, three of the last five surveys included in FiveThirtyEight’s compilation found Dolan topping Moreno anywhere from three to five points. Polling also suggests Brown is most vulnerable against Dolan, with an East Carolina University survey released Friday finding the state senator leading by two points.

“I’m a proven conservative who fights and gets results,” Dolan told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. “That’s why I’m the only Republican leading Sherrod Brown in the polls and I’m the most prepared to deliver results that build a stronger Ohio, and freer, more prosperous America.”

The Republican nominee will have to compete with Brown’s massive war chest, as he’s already brought in $26.7 million this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data. The senator has also spent $16.6 million and has $13.5 million cash on hand.

Dolan has both out-raised and out-spent the Republican primary field, according to the FEC. The state senator has reported raising $11.4 million and spending $9 million.

Moreno’s fundraising numbers are right behind Dolan’s, with the businessman bringing in $9.7 million and spending $7.3 million this cycle, according to FEC filings. LaRose, who entered the race months later, reported raising $2.2 million and disbursing $1.6 million.

Dolan and Moreno are roughly tied for cash on hand at $2.4 million, respectively, while LaRose lags behind with $591,000 in the bank, according to FEC data.

“Moreno had the momentum until recently, when Dolan’s spending outpaced the field,” Mark Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist based in Ohio, told the DCNF. “This is now a close race but the bad news for Sherrod Brown is that any one of these Republicans can and will defeat him in November.”

Ad spending on the Senate race so far has amassed $48.6 million, including $17.3 million for Dolan and $14.6 million for Moreno, compared to only $5.4 million for LaRose, according to data compiled by AdImpact released on Friday.

Moreno is leading the field in support from prominent national Republicans, while many Dolan and LaRose supporters are state and local leaders.

Trump endorsed Moreno on Dec. 19, and several of the former president’s allies like Vance have backed the businessman. Republican Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith, Eric Schmitt, Tommy Tuberville, Marco Rubio, Roger Marshall, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ted Budd, Bill Hagerty, Marsha Blackburn, Mike Lee, Mike Braun, Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso have endorsed Moreno.

Moreno has also drawn the support from GOP Reps. Jim Jordan, Max Miller, Warren Davidson and Byron Donalds, as well as conservative businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

“The choice in this Republican primary is simple,” Moreno told the DCNF in a statement. “In me, you have an America-First conservative who will stand with President Trump, and in Matt Dolan, you have an America-Last career politician who will vote more left than Mitt Romney and sabotage President Trump’s agenda any chance he gets. Dolan supports mass amnesty, gun control, and unlimited funding for Ukraine. The contrast could not be clearer.”

Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine threw his support behind Dolan on March 12, arguing that he’s the best candidate to unseat Brown in November. The governor told Darrel Rowland the next day that one of the reasons he chose Dolan was because he’s “more focused on national security,” including providing aid to Ukraine.

LaRose has the backing of Rep. Mike Turner, as well as Ohio Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that advocated against enshrining the procedure into the state’s constitution in November.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, has remained neutral in the Ohio primary while recruiting candidates in other key races. Along with Lake, Republican Senate candidates Tim Sheehy of Montana, Sam Brown of Nevada, Mike Rogers of Michigan, David McCormick of Pennsylvania and Jim Justice of West Virginia are all backed by the NRSC.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: Committee chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) listens during a Senate Banking nominations hearing on June 21, 2023 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from two nominees, Lisa DeNell Cook and Dr. Adriana Kugler, to be on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and Philip Jefferson to be Vice Chairman of the Board. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 21: Committee chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) listens during a Senate Banking nominations hearing. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Senate Republican candidates in Ohio have largely sparred over border policy, abortion restrictions and funding for the war in Ukraine, among other contentious topics.

Dolan has voiced concern over Moreno’s lack of a public record, and is arguing the businessman is similar to Brown.

“Politics is the only business I’m aware of where you can stand in front of an audience and get applause for blaming other people while you didn’t get your job done. That’s what Sherrod Brown has done for 18 years in the U.S. Senate and decades more before that in public office. Bernie Moreno is no different,” said Dolan. “He assigns blame and has turned reinvention into an artform. That’s easy when you have no record. Today his campaign is in chaos, and we cannot beat Sherrod Brown with a chaos candidate. That’s why Chuck Schumer has put more than $3 million behind Bernie Moreno’s candidacy.”

Duty and Country PAC, which is affiliated with Schumer’s Senate Majority PAC, launched a costly ad on Thursday boosting Moreno’s candidacy, according to Politico.

Just ahead of the primary, The Associated Press reported that Moreno’s email was previously used to make an account on an adult website seeking sex with men. Moreno’s lawyer insisted that he “had nothing to do with” the profile, and said a former intern for the Republican created it as “a juvenile prank.”

A spokesperson for the outlet told Breitbart News days later that it did not have further “geolocation data” to substantiate its claim as it previously stated in two articles, but maintained “we stand by the story.”

Ben Kindel, a spokesman for the LaRose campaign, argued that Ohioans should support the secretary of state on Tuesday because he’s more trustworthy on the issues than the other two Republicans.

“This election comes down to who you can trust. Frank LaRose is the only one in this race that can be trusted on life, guns, the border, the economy, and a host of other issues,” Kindel told the DCNF in a statement. “Voters know frauds when they see them and that’s exactly who Frank’s opponents are. Ohioans want a battle-tested conservative and that’s Frank LaRose.”

The Cook Political Report characterizes Brown’s seat as in the “Toss Up” category for 2024 along with Tester’s race and the open seat in Arizona currently held by independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

Brown has held public office since 1975, and was first elected to the upper chamber in 2006.

“To defeat Sherrod Brown — the ultimate Washington insider who has run for office since Richard Nixon was president — we need a clear contrast. I’m the guy to get the job done,” said Moreno.

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