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First Ohio Republican U.S. Senate debate puts Trump in spotlight, as candidates agree on many issues

Frank LaRose, Bernie Moreno and Matt Dolan stand behind individual podiums on a TV stage against a red, white and blue background.
Nexstar Media
Frank LaRose, Bernie Moreno and Matt Dolan stand behind individual podiums at a Cleveland TV station at the first Republican U.S. Senate debate of 2024.

The three Republicans who want to run against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown met for a televised debate in Cleveland Monday night. They largely agreed on most issues, though they still had plenty of criticisms to launch. And they all want the support of GOP voters who like former president Trump.

Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), Secretary of State Frank LaRose and entrepreneur Bernie Moreno agreed on sealing the southern U.S. border and all oppose amnesty. They all said they want to cut taxes and streamline regulations to boost the economy and create jobs.

But on Trump, LaRose, who wanted his endorsement and didn’t get it, made things clear: “What we need is a senator who's going to stand with President Trump. I've proven that that's exactly who I am.”

Dolan didn’t actively seek Trump’s approval, but said he shares a lot of Trump’s views: “I'm the only one on this stage who's enacted Trump policies. These two have spent a great deal of time deleting all their past comments, hateful comments on Trump. And now again, because it's in their political best interest, they're out there now saying something completely different."

Moreno, who is the Trump endorsed candidate, blasted that as “just rhetoric": “That's how he gets these pathological anti-Trumpers to support his campaign. The reality is he does not support President Trump's policies. President Trump is aligned with me.” And of LaRose, Moreno said, “He knows who Frank LaRose is and doesn't think that Frank will have his back."

All three candidates support aid for Israel in its war against Hamas, but the candidates differed over the war in Ukraine.

“I've been very clear that not another penny will go to Ukraine until we've secured the southern border. That has to be the top priority," LaRose said. "And once we do that, of course, the world's most exceptional nation can do things to make sure that our world is safer and more importantly, that America is more secure. And that means that we need to create the circumstances where the the the the fight in Ukraine can end very rapidly."

"We have to stop funneling funding to endless wars. We have been at this for two years. We've given Ukraine almost well north of $100 billion in what's happened. Russia's gotten stronger. Russia's gotten wealthier and nothing has happened that war," Moreno said. “As the leader of the world what we need to do is drive towards peace and end the killing in Ukraine. That's what we should be driving towards and not giving one more cent to Joe Biden.”

"They have the affinity with our country because we've been invaded the southern border and the incompetence of Joe Biden is making them both worse," said Dolan, comparing the war in Ukraine to the U.S southern border. "If the United States does not continue to provide ammunition and weaponry and aid to Ukraine, then Ohio boys and girls will be fighting Russia in Poland, Western Europe or the Baltics.”

Dolan and Moreno support a federal standard banning most abortions after 15 weeks. That's stricter than the Ohio amendment approved by nearly 57% of voters in November. LaRose also supported a federal minimum but didn’t put a number on it.

The candidates each sparred with the others several times. Dolan was the first to attack, in the first set of questions about immigration, saying Moreno had wanted to work on a path to citizenship. Moreno admitted to that, and countered that Dolan and LaRose want amnesty, which both candidates' websites say is false. LaRose responded, "This is a slick sales pitch from a guy that has changed his view on this."

Twice during the debate Moreno said LaRose had lied during this campaign, and said LaRose's suggestion to use drone strikes in Mexico "irresponsible." But Dolan noted Moreno had "called out for the destruction from the face of the earth of these cartels. So that's an irresponsible statement."

Dolan hit Moreno on reports of lawsuits filed when against him when he owned a luxury car dealership, which prompted Moreno to say, "he’s a lawyer who should know better. But that's what third place looks like."

Moreno and Dolan are both wealthy, while LaRose has lagged far behind in fundraising. LaRose used that in a question about the economy, saying, "I'm not in the same league as these guys are." But Moreno noted LaRose loaned his own campaign $250,000.

The debate was hosted by Cleveland TV station WJW and was broadcast live on Nexstar-owned stations across Ohio.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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