Mar 13, 2024 - News

Trump traveling to Ohio as U.S. Senate race heats up

Photo collage of Bernie Moreno, Frank LaRose, and Matt Dolan.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: Courtesy of the Moreno campaign, Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images, and Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Former President Trump is heading to Ohio this weekend to rally Republican voters for his endorsed candidate in the U.S. Senate race: Bernie Moreno.

Why it matters: Trump's support was the pivotal factor two years ago when it propelled J.D. Vance to victory against a crowded Republican field for Ohio's other Senate seat.

  • This year, the picture is more complicated, as state Sen. Matt Dolan has amassed statewide establishment support.
  • Ohio is one of the only GOP primaries where a Trump-backed candidate is at risk of losing, which the former president and his allies are trying to avoid at all costs, Axios' Stephen Neukam writes.

The latest: Gov. Mike DeWine endorsed Dolan this week, calling the Cleveland-area Republican the strongest candidate to defeat incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown in November.

Friction point: After DeWine's endorsement, Moreno painted the race in stark terms.

  • It is a contest, he said, "between the America-First Republican party and the broken-down RINO establishment."

Between the lines: DeWine and Dolan previously worked together on a failed attempt to pass gun restrictions, and they both have mild-mannered demeanors.

  • DeWine once co-chaired Trump's campaign in Ohio, but Trump hurled a barrage of insults last December over the governor's veto of a gender-affirming care ban.

By the numbers: Though independent polling has been scarce, Survey USA released a poll of 1,400 Republican and independent voters March 3 showing Moreno (29%) in a statistical tie with Dolan (27%).

  • Secretary of State Frank LaRose trailed with 21%, but led the pack among voters under 50.
  • Nearly a quarter of survey respondents were undecided.

The big picture: While Ohio is over 1,000 miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border, illegal immigration and border security remain a constant theme of the race.

State of play: Dolan, LaRose and Moreno prominently feature these issues in campaign messaging via border visits, county sheriff endorsements and repeatedly condemning the immigrant "invasion."

What they're saying: "Thanks to Joe Biden and Sherrod Brown's border invasion, every state, including Ohio, is a border state," Moreno campaign spokesperson Reagan McCarthy tells Axios.

  • McCarthy says Moreno is the "only candidate in the race who is serious about stopping this border invasion and working to reinstate the Trump-era immigration policies."
  • LaRose spokesperson Ben Kindel says the campaign has the only "clear and aggressive plan to stop the invasion," noting the secretary's past military service on the border with a counter-narcotics task force.
  • The Dolan campaign did not respond to a request for comment about its focus on immigration issues.

The intrigue: Republican candidates and officials nationwide have sought to make 2024 the "year of the border" as polls show it is a top priority for voters and a vulnerability for Democrats.

The other side: This is causing Brown and other Democrats to speak out on the issues, too.

  • Brown invited a county sheriff as his State of the Union guest after the two visited the southern border together.

What's next: Trump is scheduled to speak at Dayton International Airport at 4pm Saturday.

  • Primary election day is Tuesday.
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