A Fight for Two Different GOPs in Ohio’s Senate Primary

Happy Monday! Hope you all had a cracking St. Patrick’s Day—including the scores of Kennedys who celebrated at the White House.

Up to Speed

  • Former President Donald Trump proposed instituting a “100-percent tariff” on cars built by Chinese companies in Mexico over the weekend. Speaking at a Saturday rally in Dayton, Ohio, Trump called for trade retaliation in reference to the entrance of Chinese automakers into the Mexican market. One Chinese company, BYD, announced plans last month to build an electric vehicle factory in Mexico. “We’re going to put a 100-percent tariff on every single car that comes across the line, and you’re not going to be able to sell those cars if I get elected,” Trump said.
  • Immediately after that comment, Trump said this: “Now, if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole—that’s going to be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole country, that’ll be the least of it. But they’re not going to sell those cars, they’re building massive factories.” Trump’s use of the term “bloodbath” set off a media firestorm, as several news outlets reported on his comments and prompted Democrats to claim the presumptive Republican nominee was encouraging political violence if he loses the election. But Republicans—as well as some staunch opponents of Trump—argued that Trump was referring to a bloodbath in the domestic auto industry and other matters of policy. In the past, Trump has encouraged political violence against hecklers and notoriously egged on a mob after it stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. 
  • Geoff Duncan, the former lieutenant governor of Georgia, said Monday in a statement provided to The Dispatch that he no longer wants to be considered for a spot on the presidential ticket by the centrist group No Labels. “After careful deliberation, I have withdrawn my name from consideration for the No Labels presidential ticket. It was an honor to be approached, and I am grateful to all those who are engaged in good-faith efforts to offer Americans a better choice than the Trump vs. Biden re-match,” Duncan said. “In addition to my private sector career and earning a living for my family of five, I am focused on healing and improving the Republican Party with a GOP 2.0 so we can elect more common-sense conservative candidates in the future.”
  • Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin and chair of the House select committee on China, said a forced sale of the social media giant TikTok by its Chinese Communist Party-affiliated parent company ByteDance could happen before the 2024 election. Asked Sunday by Face the Nation anchor Margaret Brennan about a new intelligence report about the targeting of American political candidates on TikTok, Gallagher said his bill to pressure ByteDance to divest—which passed the House last week—would serve American national security interests. “It would be in the financial interest of ByteDance’s investors to effectuate a forced sale,” he said. “I think the user experience on the app would improve, and you wouldn’t have this concern over being propagandized. The opaque algorithm influencing what information you see, that would go away so I imagined it would actually increase in value. And I think all the more reason why we have to tackle this now, the closer we get to an election, the risk just gets greater and greater.” The legislation is now under consideration in the Senate. 
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu dismissed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s call for new elections in Israel, saying the New York Democrat’s criticism of Israel last week was “totally inappropriate.” Schumer had said in a floor speech Thursday that Netanyahu had “lost his way” and that his government had become beholden to extremists in Israel. “I think what he said is totally inappropriate. It’s inappropriate to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there,” Netanyahu said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. “That’s something the Israeli public does on its own. We are not a banana republic.”
  • President Joe Biden raised $53 million in February for his 2024 reelection bid and entered this month with $155 million in cash on hand, his campaign announced Sunday. “We’re proud of the record-breaking fundraising machine we’ve built that is going toward reaching the voters about the stakes of this election,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement. Biden’s February fundraising highlights include: raising $1.6 million in small contributions from grassroots donors in the 48 hours following Trump’s victory in the Republican primary in South Carolina, an email appeal for cash signed by First Lady Jill Biden that generated $853,000 in donations, and raising $2 million on February 29—leap day. Overall 469,000 unique donors made a total of 562,000 contributions to the Biden campaign in February.
  • Biden is scheduled to hit the road again this week, with plans to visit swing states Arizona and Nevada before heading to Texas. Per a schedule released by the White House, the president flies to Reno and Las Vegas on Tuesday for a mixture of campaign and official events, then heads to Phoenix for more of the same. After concluding a second event in Arizona Wednesday, Biden flies to Dallas and Houston for “campaign receptions,” terminology that usually refers to fundraisers, before heading back to Washington. Last week, Biden campaigned in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Trump Rallies For Moreno Ahead of Ohio Senate Primary

Bernie Moreno, Republican candidate for Senate, speaks at the Columbiana County Lincoln Day Dinner in Salem, Ohio, on March 15, 2024. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Bernie Moreno, Republican candidate for Senate, speaks at the Columbiana County Lincoln Day Dinner in Salem, Ohio, on March 15, 2024. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Tuesday’s Senate GOP primary in Ohio is shaping up to be the most consequential congressional primary election of 2024. Ohio is one of the two most important states that will determine control of the U.S. Senate in November, and polling suggests that one of the two leading Republican candidates would be significantly weaker in a matchup against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. 

What started out as a three-way Republican race between businessman Bernie Moreno, state Sen. Matt Dolan, and Secretary of State Frank LaRose is now, according to several polls, a toss-up between Moreno and Dolan.

The two men come from very different wings of the GOP. Dolan is a traditional Republican backed by incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine and former GOP Sen. Rob Portman, while Moreno is a populist backed by Donald Trump. Both ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for Senate in Ohio in 2022, when Trump endorsed J.D. Vance weeks before Vance won the primary. Vance, a onetime Trump critic who is now a leading populist defender of the former president, went on to win the general election, succeeding the retiring Portman.

Moreno says the United States should “absolutely not” provide more defensive aid to Ukraine, while Dolan says, “when our friends, our allies, and our enemies know America keeps its word, Americans are safer. … So we need to continue to provide the ammunition and the weaponry to Ukraine.”

Dolan says he backs Trump policies but draws a contrast between himself and Trump on matters of temperament—a stance Moreno rejects. “I want to clear something up for everybody here: I am so sick and tired of Republicans that will say, ‘I support President Trump’s policies, but I don’t like the man,’” Moreno said at a Saturday rally with Trump. “This is a good man. This is a great American.” 

At the same rally, Trump accused Dolan of “trying to become the next Mitt Romney” and said of the GOP state senator whose family owns Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team: “My attitude is anybody who changes the name from the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians should not be a senator.”

Democrats Boosting Moreno 

In addition to Trump’s backing, Senate Democrats are spending millions of dollars to boost Moreno in the primary. In the closing days of the GOP primary campaign, an organization funded by Senate Majority PAC poured about $3 million into TV ads that called Moreno “too conservative for Ohio” and highlighted Trump’s endorsement describing Moreno as “exactly the type of MAGA fighter that we need in the United States Senate.”

Why are Democrats boosting Moreno? Just look at the four nonpartisan polls of Ohio voters conducted in March—all of which found Moreno faring worse than Dolan in a race against Brown. 

An East Carolina University poll found Dolan leading Brown by 2 points and Moreno trailing Brown by 4 points. SurveyUSA found Dolan trailing Brown by 3 points and Moreno trailing by 6 points. Emerson found Dolan trailing by 3 points and Moreno trailing by 5 points. Florida Atlantic University found Dolan trailing Brown by 4 points and Moreno trailing Brown by 11 points. 

All of those polls were conducted before the Associated Press published a story on March 14 that found someone with access to Bernie Moreno’s work email, back in 2008, created a “profile seeking ‘Men for 1-on-1 sex’ on a casual sexual encounters website called Adult Friend Finder.” Moreno, a married father of four adult children, categorically denies that he had anything to do with the creation of the profile, and his lawyer provided a statement to the AP from a former Moreno intern named Dan Ricci that Ricci created the profile as “part of a juvenile prank.” The AP reported that the profile “was last accessed about six hours after it was created” in 2008 as the strongest evidence that the profile could have been a prank. The website’s founder, Andrew Conru, wrote on Twitter that the “account had only a single visit, no activity, no profile photo, consistent with a prank or someone just checking out the site.” 

The strongest piece of circumstantial evidence proffered by the AP that indicated Moreno created the account was that “geolocation data” showed the account was set up near where Moreno’s parents owned a home in Ft. Lauderdale, but Conru disputed that aspect of the AP’s reporting as well: “The AP report seeming to claim that the available data proves the account was created in Florida is inaccurate, as location information is manually entered during the signup process. In reality, there appears to be no public geolocation data tied to the account.” AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton told Breitbart News that Conru’s “tweet thread may be helpful,” but on Twitter the AP’s corporate communications account denied Breitbart News’ claim that “AP admitted it does not have any ‘geolocation data’ to back up its smear piece about Ohio Senate candidate @berniemoreno.” Easton told The Dispatch in an email, “We stand by the reporting, including that geolocation information showed the account was set up for use in the Ft. Lauderdale area.” She did not clarify whether that geolocation data was simply based on the ZIP code entered by whoever set up the account.

Even if Moreno wins the nomination, the race will likely tighten because Trump carried the state by 8 points in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. But the three-term incumbent Brown can likely run ahead of Biden in November, and polls aren’t the only reason to believe Dolan would be a stronger candidate than Moreno. In the 2022 race, the Trump-backed Vance won by 6 points against Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, while DeWine, the more traditional Republican governor, won reelection by 25 points. In 2016 Portman, another traditional Republican, won reelection by 21 points, running far ahead of Trump. 

Democrats, for their part, remain willing to spend millions boosting a Trumpist Senate GOP candidate who opposes Ukraine aid over a traditional Republican who backs Ukraine. DeWine wrote on Twitter on March 14: “Chuck Schumer and the democrats are running ads in support of Bernie Moreno because they know he’s the weakest candidate to beat Sherrod Brown this fall.” 

Notable and Quotable

“It should come as no surprise that I will not be endorsing Donald Trump this year.”

—Former Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on Fox News, March 15, 2024
Comments (122)
Join The Dispatch to participate in the comments.
Load More