Buckeye blitz: Trump dominance in Ohio tests limits of Democrats’ 2024 meddling – Washington Examiner

The presidential primary season may be over with President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump heading for a rematch, but several down-ballot races are up for grabs that will determine control of Congress. Ohio’s primary on Tuesday decided which Republican will take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown in November, as well as congressional contests key to the GOP House majority. This series, Buckeye Blitz, will examine the politics behind the races and the issues that will drive 2024 turnout. Part Three, below, looks at how the presidential race will shape the Ohio Senate race now that Bernie Moreno has been selected as the Republican nominee.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Donald Trump handed Democrats their desired challenger in the Ohio Senate race, propelling entrepreneur Bernie Moreno to the Republican nomination on the strength of his endorsement.

But it could be the former president’s coattails that deny them the seat as his dominance in the Buckeye State threatens to neutralize a successful meddling campaign by party leaders.

Duty and Country, an outside group with ties to Democratic leadership, spent some $3 million boosting Moreno with television ads that highlighted the Trump endorsement. The spending was a drop in the bucket for a primary that cost upward of $50 million, but it sent a clear signal about which Republican they wanted to challenge Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in the fall.

The playbook helped Democrats elevate, and eventually defeat, candidates from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire last cycle who resonated with Trump’s base but proved unelectable in a general election. They’re hoping to do the same in Ohio, a state that could singularly decide who will control the Senate next year.

Republicans say Moreno’s Tuesday victory resets the narrative that he will struggle in November. The alternative was Matt Dolan, a state senator perceived as more electable due to his centrist streak, but Moreno allies celebrated his 17-point win as proof he could defy expectations. The primary had been predicted to be a toss-up.

“The caricature that I think some D.C. operatives have of Bernie as a guy who isn’t a great candidate, I think that myth was busted,” said a Moreno adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity.

His Democratic opponent will be more formidable. Brown, running for his fourth term in the Senate, is a veteran of Ohio politics who has lasted more than 40 years in elected office.

And Democrats believe Moreno enters the general election bruised. On Wednesday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee welcomed him to the race with an ad of his former GOP rivals calling him untrustworthy.

However, Moreno has a structural advantage. He is running with the most popular Republican in Ohio at the top of the ticket.

Trump, who is challenging President Joe Biden for a second term in the White House, has fundamentally transformed Ohio since he entered politics. What used to be a swing state has become a GOP bastion thanks to his populist appeal.

That has been a boon for candidates in off-year elections — Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) won his Senate seat by 6 points in 2022 under the banner of Trump’s “America First” agenda — but it will be especially so down-ballot from him in a presidential year.

Working in Brown’s favor is that he, too, is a populist whose pro-union, anti-corporate platform has kept him in office, even as all other statewide Democrats have been defeated. The same Rust Belt counties in northeastern Ohio that went for Trump in 2020 also supported Brown two years earlier.

Brown can win if he splits the ticket with Trump in those and other battlegrounds. He outran the governor’s race in 2018 and could do so again with Biden on the ballot.

However, Brown could be downstream of a double-digit landslide by Trump in November. The former president won the state by 8 points in 2020, while current polling shows his lead as large as 11.

“That’s going to be a hard electoral deficit for Sherrod Brown to overcome,” said one Republican strategist not involved in the Senate race. “I’m not saying he can’t do it. Certainly he’s a talented politician, and if anyone can do it, he can, but it’s very tough.”

FILE – Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), right, speaks to supporters during a 2024 campaign kickoff event at the Firefighters Union Hall in downtown Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth, File)

The fact that the presidential race won’t be heavily contested in Ohio means “there will be room to have separation from the Trump-Biden dynamic,” said one Ohio Democratic strategist with experience in Senate races. The money spent on the airwaves will largely be dedicated to Brown’s race.

The Democrats will pour hundreds of millions into framing Moreno, who owned a franchise of luxury car dealerships before investing in blockchain, as a crooked businessman at odds with Ohio voters on abortion.

He supports a 15-week federal ban with exceptions, while Democrats have already dredged up a wage theft lawsuit used against him in the primary.

Yet Republicans have made clear in no uncertain terms that Brown’s candidacy will be just as much a referendum on him as it is Biden.

The senator has butted heads with the administration on select issues, particularly trade policy. But Republicans will make hay over a voting record in which he sided with the president 98.5% of the time in the last Congress.

The influence of Trump adds a new wrinkle to that critique. Republicans hope to sever Brown’s relationship with the working class, using Biden as the boogeyman. On Wednesday, Moreno accused Brown of supporting the president’s climate agenda, something he said would kill “good-paying Ohio energy jobs.”


Yet Democrats call the line a tired attack that failed in 2012, when he comfortably won reelection under President Barack Obama.

“It’s something that Republicans are going to try, but so far, they haven’t been able to crack the code on Sherrod,” the Democratic strategist said.