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Final Ohio GOP U.S. Senate debate features familiar positions on issues and some personal attacks

Bernie Moreno, Matt Dolan and Frank LaRose at the final Republican U.S. Senate debate, hosted by Miami University and produced by WLWT-TV in Cincinnati.
Jason Houston
Hearst Corporation
Bernie Moreno, Matt Dolan and Frank LaRose at the final Republican U.S. Senate debate, hosted by Miami University and produced by WLWT-TV in Cincinnati.

The three men vying for votes in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate met for their last debate before March 19, when one of them will win the chance to face incumbent U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) this fall.

The candidates appeared at Miami University in Oxford in a debate produced by WLWT-TV in Cincinnati to make their final arguments to GOP voters, as a recent poll showed as many as a quarter may be undecided.

With all three candidates saying they support the policies of former president Donald Trump, who is now the likely Republican presidential nominee, they began by talking about what makes them different from their opponents - specifically, their conservative pro-Trump credentials.

Businessman Bernie Moreno mentioned six times he’d been endorsed by Trump. He noted his opponents are both elected officials, and suggested they haven't always fully embraced Trump.

"I'm not currently employed by the state of Ohio and supposed to be doing that job. I've sold all my business interests to do this, and I've been endorsed by President Trump," Moreno said at the start of the debate.

“President Trump's a good man. This idea that I support his policies is but not the personality. It's a bunch of BS. That’s media talking points," Moreno said later in the debate.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose has said his opponents have not always been registered Republicans, and repeated that again in this debate.

“They're both desperate to convince you that they're conservatives. I think you know better. Ask yourself – who do you trust?” LaRose said, and later in the debate added, "Both of my opponents should be really good at talking to Democrats because both of them are former Democrats."

Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said he’s always been clear in his support for Trump’s policies, but not his opponents.

“These guys are reinventing themselves. They don't want you to know their history. Go back and try to look at their deleted tweets. You can't. Go back and look at what they wrote in articles. You can't," Dolan said. "They don't want you to know who you are, except for now when they want your vote. I have been consistent."

There was some discussion about a report Tuesday afternoon that the group No Labels, which will soon decide whether to back a presidential ticket, was planning to endorse and fundraise for LaRose. While No Labels was founded in 2009 as a centrist political organization, it's a dark money group that doesn't have to disclose its donors. Democrats have been concerned about reports that it's received lots of campaign cash from major Republican donors.

LaRose had worked with No Labels in the past. Dolan noted in an earlier debate that the group had advocated for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which all three candidates say they oppose. In this debate, Moreno said an email announced LaRose would be on a Zoom call with No Labels, which he described as "too liberal for Nikki Haley," who had declined to consider working with the group.

"This is fake news. My 'labels' are 'well-known conservative Republican'," LaRose said. "There was no call, there was no meeting."

The candidates were asked about issues they've spoken about before: immigration, inflation, the Israel-Hamas war and abortion. They were also asked about issues they felt could reach across the aisle and work with Democrats on: Dolan said securing and sealing the border, LaRose said reining in government spending, and Moreno said term limits.

All three campaigns emailed multiple fact-checks during the event, and at the end each also claimed their candidate won the debate.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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