Top GOP candidates predict Republican voters will unite behind nominee after divisive Senate primary

INDEPENDENCE, OH – From the campaign trail to the ad wars, the attacks and rhetoric have been flying in the closing days ahead of Tuesday’s contentious and costly Republican Senate primary in Ohio.

Bernie Moreno, the businessman and luxury auto dealership giant who’s backed by former President Donald Trump, has repeatedly charged that his main rival in the race – state Sen. Matt Dolan – is a “RINO,” a derogatory acronym which stands for “Republicans in name only.”

And he’s compared Dolan to establishment Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who is reviled by Trump and the MAGA movement.

Dolan, a former top county prosecutor and Ohio assistant attorney general whose family owns Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians, told Fox News Digital on the eve of the primary that Moreno’s “divisive.”

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Ohio Republican Senate candidates Matt Dolan (left) and Bernie Moreno (right) (Getty Images)

And an outside super PAC supporting Dolan charged in a recent ad that Moreno’s “creepy” and “damaged goods.” The spot referred to an Associated Press report which claims that an adult hookup website account was created in 2008 using an email linked to Moreno.

Moreno denied the report and called it “a sick, last-minute attack by desperate people.”

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The other major candidate in the Republican primary battle, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, has criticized both of his wealthier rivals, who’ve pumped millions into their campaigns.

As he voted on Tuesday, LaRose once again jabbed at his rivals, claiming “Dolan certainly has a very long liberal track record. So does Moreno.”

Ohio Secretary of State and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Frank LaRose speaks to supporters during a campaign event in Hamilton, Ohio, Monday, March 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon) (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

But the candidates aren’t concerned that the crossfire will weaken the winner of Tuesday’s primary, who will face off in November against longtime Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown – who’s considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats -in a race that may determine whether Republicans win back the Senate majority.

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“I’m going to be the flag bearing Republican who’s going to beat Sherrod Brown and I think Republicans will unite and Donald Trump will be part of that,” Dolan predicted in a Fox News Digital interview on Monday in Columbus.

Ohio state senator and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Matt Dolan speaks during a campaign event in Columbus, Ohio, Monday, March 18, 2024.  (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Moreno, speaking with Fox News Digital after meeting Tuesday morning with Republican activists in suburban Cleveland, predicted that Republicans in the battleground state will rally behind the winner of the primary.

“The entirety of the Republican Party will be behind who ever wins tonight. I believe it will be me,” Moreno said.

“We’re all going to be united when this race is called tonight, because we have one singular cause, which is to defeat Sherrod Brown. This is a guy who’s not good for Ohio. He’s not good for Ohio,” he claimed. “We need to get control of the United States Senate back and control of the United States Senate runs through Ohio.”

Ohio and national Democrats have spotlighted the intra-party fireworks, arguing that the crossfire will weaken the eventual nominee.

But Republican Sen J.D. Vance of Ohio disagrees.

GOP Sen. JD Vance of Ohio (left) campaigns on behalf of GOP Senate candidate Bernie Moreno (right) as they speak with party activists in Independence, OH, on March 19, 2024. (Fox News – Paul Steinhauser)

Vance, who is backing Moreno and has campaigned with the candidate continuously across the state the past four days, was the winner of the 2022 GOP Senate primary in Ohio, which was more crowded and combustible than the 2024 edition.

“You see this all the time. You have slugfests in the primary,” Vance told Fox News Digital. “I don’t worry at all about these intermural fights carrying over into the general election. They happen all the time and I think Republicans know how to unite and win.”

Dolan said that if he wins, he’ll preach unity.

“I’m not interested in dividing the Republican Party. I’m interested in when we put conservative agendas in place, Republicans win. When that happens, Ohioans and Americans are better off. That’s the message I’m running on,” he emphasized.

And Moreno agreed that “I think at the end of the day we’ll all come together.”

But the candidate did acknowledge that “sometimes it does get personal. That’s OK. Listen, that’s what we signed up for. It’s part of politics.”

Fox News’ Jamie Vera and Deirdre Heavey contributed to this report

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire. 

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