GOP Senate battle in Ohio gets nasty in home stretch 

The battle to become the Senate GOP’s nominee in Ohio against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) is getting nastier by the day, just as former President Trump gets set to make his presence felt on Saturday.

What had long been a three-way brawl appears to have winnowed down to a two-way race between as businessman Bernie Moreno and state Sen. Matt Dolan (R), potentially squeezing out Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R).

“It certainly seems that way,” said Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), a neutral in the fight who observed that those two candidates and the outside groups backing them are the main ones now messaging on TV.

Moreno has attacked Dolan as the anti-Trump figure in the race, while Dolan has labeled Moreno as a “phony.”

LaRose has slammed both rivals, but has little financial firepower to keep up with Dolan and Moreno, who are each self-funding their campaigns.

The attacks reached a crescendo on Thursday night when The Associated Press reported on an Adult Friend Finder profile attached to Moreno’s email address seeking, “Men for 1-on-1 sex.”

A former intern claimed he made the account as a “juvenile prank,” but the mere existence of the story sums up the state of the race.

“Clearly, it’s gotten pretty personal and ugly,” former Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) said. “There’s attacks on all three of them that are probably completely unfair and a stretch of reality. … Some of them are kind of beyond the pale.” 

Moreno appeared to be on the road to victory after he received one of Trump’s few endorsements in contested Senate contests late last year. But a poll released this week showed Dolan with a lead.

The poll by Emerson College and The Hill found Dolan leading Moreno by 3 percentage points — a major jump as he trailed both Moreno and LaRose in the same survey less than two months ago. 

Much of that rise is being attributed to his blanketing of the airwaves.

Multiple GOP strategists said the ratio of Dolan to Moreno ads is roughly 2-to-1, if not more.

Dolan, whose family owns Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians, has spent $10 million of his money on the race, including an additional $1 million he loaned the campaign Tuesday. Moreno has spent $4 million of his money ahead of Tuesday. 

Dolan finished third in the 2022 primary, losing to Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), Trump’s pick that cycle, by 9 percentage points.

Strategists say Dolan is no longer seen as an anti-Trump candidate, and this is benefiting him.

“He did not run against Trump [this time.] If anything, he made an uncomfortable détente with Trump as a candidate and has endorsed him,” said Mark Weaver, an Ohio-based GOP strategist.

While Moreno undoubtedly got a major boost with Trump’s endorsement and will see another one when the president rallies by his side Saturday in Dayton, he might be hurt by the fact that Trump has now locked up the presidential nomination.

As a result, Trump voters have much less of an impetus to head to the polls Tuesday, which could hurt Moreno against Dolan.

“Even if the rally gets a huge audience and provides an injection of energy for Moreno, the real question is whether Trump voters turn out in a situation that doesn’t matter for the former president,” one GOP strategist said. “That’s got to be a terrifying proposition for the Moreno campaign.”

Moreno has multiple things going for him, though.

While recent surveys have shown both candidates leading, one commonality has been the sizable chunk of the GOP primary voting electorate that is undecided heading into Tuesday. 

Operatives believe that portion likely skews toward Trump supporters. Many are likely voters who have not paid close attention to the race yet or are unaware of the election, especially because the primary was held in May two years ago, these operatives say.

Moreno is also getting a boost from an unlikely source: Democrats. A group funded by the Senate Majority PAC launched an ad campaign in the final week to prop Moreno up by highlighting his support from the ex-president.

“The Trump appearance will be foremost in the minds of those undecided voters in the last 72 hours,” Weaver said. “And to the extent that most of them like a Trump endorsement, that will benefit Moreno.”

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