Trump-backed Bernie Moreno wins contentious Ohio GOP Senate primary

Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno will win the Ohio GOP Senate primary, the Associated Press projects, in a race that tested the weight of former President Trump’s endorsement.

Moreno was projected as the winner Tuesday night, beating Republican state Sen. Matt Dolan and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose in a contest many believe is a solid opportunity for Republicans to flip the seat. Moreno argued the contentious GOP primary was a battle between an outsider who would carry forward the MAGA agenda versus the establishment.

“The reality is we have an opportunity now, we have an opportunity now to retire the old commie and send him to a retirement home and save this country because that’s what we’re going to do,” Moreno told his supporters in his victory speech referring to incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown who he will face in November.

“Think about it, this guy been in office since Richard Nixon was president,” Moreno said. “This guy’s been in elected office, never had a job in the private sector, and what does he do? He says he advocates for working-class Americans.”

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Former President Trump greets Ohio Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno during a rally at Dayton International Airport on March 16, 2024, in Vandalia, Ohio. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“So let’s dissect that for a second,” Moreno continued. “Under Sherrod Brown’s watch, China has gone from a $4 billion trade deficit to a $235 billion a year trade deficit with America. The middle class in this country has shrank under his watch, we’ve lost factory after factory under his watch. We are now, with his leadership, so called, of the Senate Banking Committee, we’ve seen a absolute obliteration of local and small and regional banks. That’s all happening under Sherrod Brown’s watch.”

During the primary campaign, Moreno positioned himself as a political outsider against the establishment who will get things done in Washington, D.C.

“If you want somebody who’s going to be more liberal than Mitt Romney in the United States Senate, then vote for Matt Dolan,” Moreno, endorsed by Trump in December, argued at a rally in suburban Cleveland on the eve of the primary.

Dolan, endorsed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and former Sen. Rob Portman, both considered to be top members of Ohio’s Republican old guard or establishment, had been surging in the polls in the last few weeks as he used his considerable personal fortune to blanket the airwaves with ads attempting to walk the line between supporting Trump’s agenda while distancing himself from Trump the person.

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

“I’m the only one in this race that’s cut taxes and reduced regulations. Who else has done that? Donald Trump,” Dolan noted in a Fox News Digital interview in Columbus on Monday. “Everyone wants to talk about Donald Trump’s endorsement. I’m the only one who’s actually done Donald Trump policies because it helps Ohio.”

“Bernie wants to be divisive. I want to be inclusive of all Republicans,” Dolan said. “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.”

“His personality?” Dolan, the only candidate not to endorse Trump, said during a debate in early March. “It’s not me. His political style? It’s not me. But his policies that make your life better, make America stronger, make Ohio stronger, that is me.”

Moreno made a veiled reference to that comment while speaking at a Dayton-area rally with Trump on Saturday.

“I am so sick of Republicans that will say, ‘I support President Trump’s policies, but I don’t like the man,'” Moreno said. “This is a good man. This is a great American. This man wakes up every day fighting for us, fighting for this country. He loves this country like no other leader in this nation has ever loved this country.”

TRUMP, TOP ALLIES MAKE CLOSING PITCH FOR SHERROD BROWN CHALLENGER BERNIE MORENO IN OHIO SENATE RACE

Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno celebrates with supporters after winning Ohio’s GOP Senate primary, in Cleveland, Ohio on March 19, 2024 (Fox News – Paul Steinhauser)

LaRose, who endorsed Trump, attempted to make the case on the campaign trail that he was the only true conservative in the race, criticizing Moreno for previous comments and positions on gun control and abortion while labeling Dolan a RINO (Republican in name only) over his past voting record.

LaRose, who was massively outspent by Moreno and Dolan, touted his conservative record and told Fox News Digital this year that he was “the most dangerous weapon against [Sen.] Sherrod Brown.”

The race will now focus on Brown, the only Democrat to win statewide in Ohio in a decade, and his matchup with Moreno will have significant implications on which party takes control of the U.S. Senate in November.

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Dolan showcases that he’s 'a conservative that’s getting things done' Video

Democrats control the Senate with a 51-49 majority, but Republicans are looking at a favorable Senate map in 2024, with Democrats defending 23 of the 34 seats up for grabs. Three of those seats are in red states Trump carried in 2020: Ohio, Montana and West Virginia, where Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin is not running for reelection.

Trump and his surrogates who rallied around Moreno have already begun to attack Brown as someone who is out of step with Ohio voters in a state that Trump won by eight points in 2020. Republicans have also made the case that Brown is a rubber stamp for President Biden.

Jim Jordan makes closing pitch for Bernie Moreno in Ohio GOP Senate primary Video

Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan told Fox News Digital at a Saturday rally in Dayton that Moreno is the strongest candidate to face Brown, who “talks one way” when “he’s at home” but votes with Biden in Washington, D.C.

Ohio needs to defeat your horrendous radical left Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown, who pretends he’s my best friend,” Trump told the crowd in Dayton. “He pretends he’s my best friend until he gets in, and then he goes radical left all the time. You know, if you listen to his commercials, he sounds like he’s running with Trump. He’s not.”

After Moreno’s victory, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee argued that “Ohioans have seen that Moreno can’t be trusted to look out for anyone but himself.”

And the Senate Majority PAC, the top super PAC supporting Senate Democrats, charged that “Moreno cannot be trusted to put the interests of Ohioans over his own.”

Moreno, in his victory speech, credited Trump.

“I want to thank President Trump for all he did for me, for this campaign, for his unwavering support,” Moreno said in his victory speech.

Moreno, who highlighted that he spoke with the former president soon after his victory was projected, emphasized that “I wear with honor my endorsement from President Trump.”

And in an interview with Fox News after his primary victory, Moreno emphasized that “an endorsement from Donald J. Trump is the most powerful endorsement in modern political history. There’s never been anything like it before – probably won’t be anything like it afterwards.”

And he added that Trump’s backing “was probably decisive” in his primary victory.

“I think it was a victory for the [Trump] agenda. For the America First agenda,” he added.

Dolan, speaking with reporters after conceding, said “I think it’s pretty self-evident that Donald Trump endorsement for Bernie Moreno was a key factor for Bernie winning.”

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

Andrew Mark Miller is a reporter at Fox News. Find him on Twitter @andymarkmiller and email tips to [email protected].

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