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Trump-endorsed Senate candidate Bernie Moreno wins Ohio's GOP Primary

Ohio businessman Bernie Moreno, a GOP Senate candidate, points to the crowd during his primary election night watch party in Westlake, Ohio on Tuesday.
David Dermer
/
AP
Ohio businessman Bernie Moreno, a GOP Senate candidate, points to the crowd during his primary election night watch party in Westlake, Ohio on Tuesday.

Updated March 20, 2024 at 12:22 AM ET

Ohio Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno has won his party's primary, according to a race call by The Associated Press.

The former car dealership owner beat out other primary challengers in a three-way race that tested former President Donald Trump's influence with Ohio GOP voters.

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Speaking to supporters Tuesday evening, Moreno thanked Trump for his endorsement and projected confidence.

"We're going to retake the United States Senate. We're going to have President Trump in the White House. We're gonna get the America first agenda done," Moreno said, adding that if elected he would focus on policies Trump pushed while in office that would include securing U.S. borders, restoring "law and order," and reducing foreign energy dependence.

Just days before polls closed, Trump rallied for Moreno in Ohio, calling him an "America first champion" and "political outsider who has spent his entire life building up Ohio communities."

Yet his Democratic opponent, Sen. Sherrod Brown, responded Tuesday night to Moreno's win posting on social media saying, "The choice ahead of Ohio is clear: Bernie Moreno has spent his career and campaign putting himself first, and would do the same if elected."

Trump's influence on a bitter primary battle

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Ohio state Sen. Matt Dolan, who ran against Moreno, received key endorsements from GOP establishment politicians, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and former U.S. Sen. Rob Portman. Moreno's other primary rival, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, declared his support for the former president. But it was Moreno who received Trump's endorsement late last year. The former president has a strong record of support within the state. He won Ohio handily in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

Moreno will go on to challenge Brown, the Democratic incumbent. The Senate race could help determine who controls the Senate next year, given that Democrats now hold the chamber with a narrow margin.

It's a first-time win for the 57-year-old Moreno, a Cleveland-area businessman, who once owned a network of luxury car dealerships. Moreno, whose family immigrated from Colombia to the U.S. when he was a child, put more than $5 million of his own money into the race. But he was also boosted by a late addition to the many ads in this campaign from a political action committee aligned with U.S. Senate Democrats. The super PAC Duty and Country spent some $2.7 millionon ads touting the Trump-endorsed candidate as "too conservative for Ohio."

In recent polls, Moreno and Dolan traded off the lead, although when LaRose first entered the race, he had been considered the front-runner. But he later seemed to lag behind as he waged a campaign with far less money and lacked high-profile endorsements.

Moreno faces an incumbent Democrat who's served in the U.S. Senate since 2007, but Brown is also seen as one of the most vulnerable candidates seeking re-election in the U.S. Senate this year. He's the only Ohio Democrat who's been elected multiple times statewide even as Ohio has trended more Republican.

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U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, kicked off his re-election campaign in Columbus, Ohio on  Dec. 15, 2023.
Julie Carr Smyth / AP
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AP
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, kicked off his re-election campaign in Columbus, Ohio on Dec. 15, 2023.

He won re-election in 2018 by almost 7 percentage points, as Republicans swept other statewide offices. But Brown has acknowledged that this will be his toughest campaign yet.

While the race turned into a bitter battle over who is the strongest Trump-aligned candidate, it was also fueled by money.

Dolan and Moreno both had around $2.4 million in their campaign accounts as of their last FEC filings. Dolan loaned his campaign $2 million, and Moreno loaned his campaign $1.2 million. LaRose, who doesn't have the personal wealth the other two do, neared the end of the primary race with just under $600,000 on hand.

Brown, who didn't have a primary opponent, raised about $6.6 million in the last few months. Brown's cash-on-hand total is some $14.6 million, nearly three times that of the other three candidates combined.

Copyright 2024 The Statehouse News Bureau

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