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Big money and a close poll for three men vying for Republican nomination for Ohio U.S. Senate

Senate candidates Matt Dolan (R), Frank LaRose (R) and Bernie Moreno (R).
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Senate candidates Matt Dolan (R), Frank LaRose (R) and Bernie Moreno (R) all appeared on "The State of Ohio" in the last three weeks.

Next Tuesday’s primary election features a trio of men running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. The winner goes on to the fall ballot to face Democrat Sherrod Brown, who’s been in the Senate since defeating now-governor Mike DeWine, then the Republican incumbent, in 2006.

The candidates and their supporters are spending millions on ads. And the race has been moving. The latest Emerson College/The Hill poll shows a third lead change in four months.

The three candidates sat down for interviews for the Statehouse News Bureau's weekly TV show "The State of Ohio". They were asked about the issues, about former president Trump – who won Ohio in the last two elections – and about why they think they can win.

Bernie Moreno is a wealthy former Cleveland-area luxury car dealer who talks often about how his parents legally emigrated to the US from Colombia when he was young. He said his opponents would be more of the same old, same old in Washington DC.

“We can't have a repeat of 2017 and ‘18 in which we had the House, the Senate and the White House and President Trump had to fight Democrats as much as he had to fight Republicans. And my opponents are career politicians," Moreno said. 

Veteran state legislator Matt Dolan is in the state Senate and is a part owner of the Cleveland Guardians, and said he’s simply the strongest candidate for the fall. 

“We've got to elect the best Republican who can beat Sherrod Brown. And I think as the race is evolving, they're seeing that I can beat Sherrod Brown in the areas where he's really strong. And my opponents would have trouble doing that," Dolan said. 

Secretary of State Frank LaRose was a Green Beret with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne before he served in the state senate, and said he’s the only real conservative in the race.

“Ohioans want a genuine conservative who can beat Sherrod Brown, not somebody who is a former Democrat like both of my opponents are," LaRose said. "Pretty remarkable - in a three-way Republican primary, I'm the only one that's never been a registered Democrat.”

All three candidates support cutting taxes, streamlining regulations and blame President Biden for increased inflation. They all strongly support Israel in its war against Hamas. Dolan supports fighting the Russians in Ukraine, Moreno wants to end that conflict through negotiation, and LaRose wants more training for Ukrainians.

And all three candidates were opposed to last fall’s abortion access constitutional amendment. LaRose’s office wrote the summary language for Issue 1, not mentioning that it includes the right to contraceptives and fertility treatments. LaRose has said he believes life begins at conception, but he said he supports in-vitro fertilization.

“We need to make sure IVF is done ethically, but we need to be very supportive of that and other fertility services to make sure that people have those options," said LaRose.

Moreno, who has also said life begins at conception, also said he’s absolutely not against IVF.

“I think anything that promotes families having babies, anything that gets us where birth rates get back up to replacement levels, extraordinarily important for America to do," Moreno said. 

Moreno and LaRose are endorsed by Ohio Right to Life. Dolan isn’t, because he voted against Ohio’s six-week abortion ban that included no exceptions. Dolan said that’s what makes him the best candidate.

“These are things that Sherrod Brown is going to run on a loop against them because he wants to make the ‘24 election about abortion. He can't do that with me,” Dolan said.

Moreno touts his endorsement from former president Trump repeatedly. Trump has been indicted on 91 felony charges, has said he won’t defend NATO allies against Russian aggression if they don’t meet spending guidelines and continues to lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

But all three candidates are strongly behind Trump – including Dolan, often suggested as an anti-Trump alternative. But he said he supports Trump’s policies, and that as a former prosecutor Dolan said he would vote for Trump even if Trump were convicted.

“The Democrats are talking as if he has been convicted, and that is not the case. That is weaponizing the federal system, that that President Trump is innocent as he stands here today," Dolan said.

Moreno, who’s deleted old social media posts against Trump, said he’s voted for him twice.

“I would push back against the narrative that people say that they support his policies but not the person. I support both. He's a good man," Moreno said. "The fact that he's willing to put up with this level of abuse from the media, from big tech and from Democrats is absolutely inspiring to me.”

LaRose, who’s also deleted anti-Trump posts, also said he’ll support Trump even if Trump is convicted.

“Oh yeah. No, because listen, this is up to the people of the United States to choose their president. I believe that we have a problem with a two-tiered system of justice, that they're coming after Trump because they fear him," LaRose said.

Dolan is endorsed by Gov. Mike DeWine, who had suggested he might not endorse in the race, and former U.S. Sen Rob Portman. LaRose touts endorsements from Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones and current and former state lawmakers and local leaders.

A poll from Emerson College/The Hill released Wednesday shows with less than a week till election day, the race is tight: Dolan is at 26%, Moreno is at 23% and LaRose is at 16%, but “undecided” leads at 32%. The margin of error is 2.6%. The Emerson College Polling website says since its poll in January, Dolan has gained ten points, Moreno has moved up one point, and LaRose has lost five points.

More than $30.5 million has already been spent on TV and cable ads in this primary: $8.2 million by Dolan, $5.5 million by Moreno and $5.1 million from a PAC that supports LaRose. Federal Election Commission filings show Dolan loaned his campaign $2 million, Moreno loaned his $1.2 million loan, LaRose has under $600,000 and Sherrod Brown, who has no primary opponent, has $13.5 million cash on hand. With more than $56 million raised by the three Republicans and Brown, this is shaping up to top the $71.6 million raised in 2022, in the most expensive US Senate race in Ohio history.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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