Trump-Backed Moreno Wins Ohio GOP Primary Handily

Happy Wednesday! And pour one out for the unfortunate communications staffer who sent out a press release Tuesday announcing House candidate Derek Myers was conceding the Republican primary—hours before the polls closed. Myers clarified the release was sent in error, but it seems the trigger-happy staffer was just being prescient: Myers came in a distant 11th place.

Up to Speed

  • Nikki Haley is no longer a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, but she still managed to score an average of more than 15.4 percent of the vote Tuesday across GOP primaries in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, and Ohio. Her showing against former President Donald Trump revealed ongoing, intraparty dissatisfaction with the presumptive Republican nominee, a potential warning sign for November versus President Joe Biden. Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, suspended her 2024 campaign after Trump achieved a virtual sweep in the Super Tuesday primaries.  
  • Biden also dealt with an intraparty protest Tuesday, as slightly more than 12 percent of Democratic primary voters opted for another candidate, or no candidate—as ballots allowed—in Arizona, Illinois, Kansas and Ohio. In Florida, the Democratic Party canceled its presidential primary late last year in deference to the president.
  • Rep. Mike Bost defeated challenger Darren Bailey in the Republican primary in Illinois’ 12th Congressional District—barely. With most precincts reporting, Bost led Bailey 52 percent to 48 percent in the rural, southern Illinois seat drawn to elect Republicans. Bost’s victory amounted to another win for a Trump-endorsed candidate in a GOP primary, although the race caused a split between the former president and some of his loyalists. Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Mary Miller of Illinois had backed Bailey. Incidentally, Bailey lost his bid for governor in 2022 after riding Trump’s endorsement to victory over Richard Irvin in the GOP primary. Irvin was considered more electable versus Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 
  • Also in Illinois, Reps. Sean Casten and Bill Foster were renominated in Democratic primaries in their suburban Chicago districts, beating back progressive challengers who, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, were pushing the two incumbents to oppose Israel as it moves to eradicate Hamas in Gaza. Casten led Mahnoor Ahmad 77 percent to 14 percent with most precincts reporting, and Foster led Qasim Rashid 77 percent to 23 percent with slightly more than half of precincts reporting.
  • Biden’s reelection campaign has launched “Latinos con Biden-Harris,” an effort to boost support for him and Vice President Kamala Harris among Hispanic voters. “This is not parachuting into any community two weeks before the election,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat and member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board. “We’re starting months and months and months even before the Democratic convention this summer, to get the message out.” Tuesday’s launch included a new television advertisement geared toward Hispanic voters. Notably, the Biden campaign recorded the spot in English, Spanish and “Spanglish,” and used regional accents that conform to the Hispanic community targeted in the various battleground states in which it is running. Also of note, there was no use of the term “Latinx”—a gender-neutral term coined by liberal activists to refer to people of Latin-American heritage but not widely accepted by Hispanic voters—in the announcement or advertising.
  • Peter Navarro, the White House trade adviser for Donald Trump, reported to federal prison in Miami on Tuesday, but not before telling reporters at a press conference just before he arrived that he was “pissed” about his case, which he referred to as an “unprecedented assault on the constitutional separation of powers.” Navarro was convicted and sentenced to four months in prison for contempt of Congress after refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Navarro unsuccessfully argued he was protected by executive privilege and even made a last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court, which Chief Justice John Roberts rejected on Monday.
  • Be sure to read this thorough report from Semafor’s Shelby Talcott on the close relationship between Trump and the small but fervent movement of January 6 prisoners —those convicted or awaiting trial for their participation in the events of that day—and their families. The presumptive GOP nominee refers to them as “hostages” and may issue pardons if reelected.

Moreno Sails Through Ohio Senate Primary

Senate candidate Bernie Moreno speaks before former President Donald Trump takes the stage during a Buckeye Values PAC Rally in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 16, 2024. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Senate candidate Bernie Moreno speaks before former President Donald Trump takes the stage during a Buckeye Values PAC Rally in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 16, 2024. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Bernie Moreno won the Republican nomination for Senate in Ohio on Tuesday. Despite polls indicating a competitive race with state Sen. Matt Dolan, in the end, it wasn’t even close. Moreno won just over 50 percent of the vote, besting both Dolan (33 percent) and a third candidate, Secretary of State Frank LaRose (17 percent), for the chance to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown in November. 

“The reality is, we have an opportunity now. We have an opportunity now to retire the old commie and send him to the retirement home and to save this country,” Moreno said Tuesday night in his victory speech.

The Republican was helped immensely in the primary by an endorsement from Donald Trump, who rallied for Moreno on Saturday in Dayton. As we reported Monday, Moreno embraced Trump’s populist message wholeheartedly and castigated Republicans like Dolan who say they support Trump’s policies but oppose the former president personally.

“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 the Dayton rally. “This is a good man. This is a great American.”

While Republican primary voters in Ohio gave Moreno their stamp of approval, his victory Tuesday was greeted with glee by Democrats, who have already begun to highlight the new GOP nominee’s stance on abortion and the minimum wage. In fact, a Democratic super PAC spent money to boost Moreno in the primary, suggesting the party believed polls that showed Moreno losing to Brown in a general election whereas Dolan would beat him.

But with Moreno as the nominee and Ohio’s new status as a solidly Republican state, Brown’s ability to hold on to his seat for a fourth term will be tested, especially in a presidential election year. Trump has won the state twice, including beating Biden by 8 points in 2020, and all early polls indicate he’s leading Biden in Ohio again. Trump’s coattails could be enough to help Moreno overcome whatever advantages Brown has as an incumbent.

Brown’s seat is just one among several tough Senate seats Democrats are defending this year, and Republicans will be especially motivated to oust the Buckeye State’s only remaining Democrat in statewide elected office. With a less-than-competitive presidential race at the top of the ticket, the Ohio Senate race is likely to attract lots of spending from outside groups. Stay tuned.

RFK Jr. to Reveal New Approach to Ballot Access Challenge

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. plans to unveil a new strategy for securing presidential ballot lines in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., a challenge that continues to plague the viability of his independent White House bid.

The Kennedy campaign said Tuesday in a press release its updated ballot-access blueprint would be unveiled March 26, coinciding with the introduction of a running mate during a late morning event in Oakland, California. By the campaign’s own admission, Kennedy has a long way to go to put “Bobby on the ballot.” So far, access has been achieved only in Utah, with enough signatures gathered, and ballot lines apparently pending, in Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

However, American Values 2024, the super PAC supporting Kennedy’s presidential campaign, claims it has secured the petitions needed to put the independent candidate on the ballot in Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Kennedy’s support in national polling has both Democrats and Republicans on edge. 

He’s at 15 percent in the RealClearPolitics average versus President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, with the surveys showing the independent contender hurts Biden more than Trump. Without Kennedy in the race, Trump leads Biden by 1.7 percentage points; with him in the race, the former president’s lead grows to 4.3 points. Perhaps that’s why the Democratic National Committee formed a team to focus specifically on third party challenges to the president. 

But political operatives in both parties remain skeptical that Kennedy can meet deadlines for putting his name on the ballot as a presidential candidate in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. given the expertise and resources required—and the short timeframe. Kennedy had relied on American Values 2024 to fund and execute ballot access activities. But some weeks after the DNC filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging illegal coordination, the group ceased that work earlier this month.

If Kennedy fails to obtain lines on all ballots, the best he can hope to accomplish is to play the role of spoiler candidate, blocking either Biden or Trump from victory on November 5. Indeed, that might be the best outcome Kennedy can hope for, period.

Unlike the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees, Kennedy does not have the infrastructure of a political party behind him. That means no turnkey voter turnout operation, data analytics program, or fundraising network to fuel his campaign. Unless Kennedy can build a campaign to compete with the two major parties, winning enough states to capture the White House is virtually impossible. Just take a look at what happened in 1992.

In that contest, independent Ross Perot, a billionaire businessman from Texas who self-funded his campaign and was on every ballot, won 19 percent of the vote. It was the most by a candidate not affiliated with the Democratic and Republican parties since 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt, a former GOP president, won 27 percent of the vote, and 88 votes in the Electoral College, running as the Progressive Party nominee. Perot’s finish helped then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton oust President George H.W. Bush.

And yet Perot himself won zero states and therefore zero votes in the Electoral College. 

Meanwhile, after a reasonably active January and February on the campaign trail, Kennedy has gone dark this month. The candidate has no public gatherings scheduled this week, in-person or virtual, according to an events calendar maintained on his campaign website. That was the case the preceding two weeks as well—other than a roundtable in Austin, Texas, on March 9, according to spreadsheet tracking Kennedy campaign events provided to Dispatch Politics by Democratic operatives. 

The exception appears to be events listed as “private receptions,” likely fundraisers. 

But the Kennedy campaign events calendar shows an uptick in public, in-person events beginning with next Tuesday’s reveal of his running mate. And a campaign spokesperson told The Dispatch in an email exchange that many more gatherings with voters are on tap. “New events will be added soon after the VP announcement on March 26,” the spokesperson said. “We will be scheduling rallies in many states.”

Notable and Quotable

“Obviously I wish I’d chosen a different word.”

—Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), on complaining last week that the Senate primary she lost was “rigged,” speaking on the Pod Save America podcast, March 19, 2024

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