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Trump-backed Bernie Moreno wins Ohio Republican Senate primary race

Ohio Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno speaks during a campaign stop, Monday, March 18, 2024, in Toledo, Ohio. (Jeremy Wadsworth/The Blade via AP)

Moreno, 57, the president of Collection Auto Group, enjoyed the backing of Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) as well as former President Donald Trump, and had billed himself as a populist acolyte of the 45th president’s “Make America Great Again” movement.

That support played a key role in Moreno edging State Sen. Matt Dolan — who was endorsed by GOP Gov. Mike DeWine and former Republican Sen. Rob Portman — and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Moreno was garnering 49.4% of the vote to Dolan’s 32.9% backing with 64% of precincts reporting.

“I want to thank President Trump, for all he did for me for this campaign,” Moreno said in his victory speech, describing the former president’s support as “unwavering” and noting that he spoke to Trump shortly after he was projected to win the Senate primary race.

“I wear with honor my endorsement from President Trump,” he added, wondering if Brown “is going to wear with honor his 99% voting record with Joe Biden.”

Ohio is widely seen as one of the top Republican pickup opportunities in the Senate this cycle due to the state’s rightward swing. Buckeye State voters have backed the GOP candidate in four of the six presidential elections since 2000, with Trump beating President Biden by eight percentage points in 2020.

To counter that threat, at least one Democratic-aligned group intervened in the race to help buoy Moreno.

The Duty and Country PAC spent $2.7 million on a TV commercial highlighting Moreno‘s close alignment with Trump, according to AdImpact, which tracks spending on promotional spots. Duty and Country gets funding from the Senate Majority PAC, the primary committee backing Senate Democrats.

“[Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer just got CAUGHT meddling in our primary because he wants the weakest opponent for Sherrod Brown,” Dolan vented on X Thursday after reports on the ad circulated.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who helms the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, has publicly explained that he views Moreno as a “weak candidate.”

“He’s got out-of-staters coming in to campaign for him,” Peters told Axios last week, “and Sherrod Brown always has people from Ohio campaigning for him.”

Somewhat sparse polling had pegged Moreno running neck and neck with Dolan, with the former attributing the tightness of the race to a “bunch of misleading, disgusting, and gross ads.”

Days before voters went to the polls, Moreno’s campaign was rocked by an Associated Press report that revealed a profile on Adult Friend Finder that advertised pursuit of “Men for 1-on-1 sex” had been created with his email in 2008.

Somewhat sparse polling had pegged Moreno running neck and neck with Dolan, with the former attributing the tightness of the race to a “bunch of misleading, disgusting, and gross ads.”

“Hi, looking for young guys to have fun with while traveling,” one post read, per the outlet.

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The AP couldn’t confirm that Moreno made the profile himself and his campaign blamed a prank by an intern, the revelation seemingly contradicted the pro-family image Moreno sought to cultivate.

“It’s a sick, last-minute attack by desperate people,” he groused. “This is what they do. Look at what they did to Judge Kavanaugh, look at what they did to President Trump.”

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