CLEVELAND — Ohio Republican U.S. Sen. JD Vance has endorsed Westlake entrepreneur Bernie Moreno in the state's 2024 U.S. Senate race.
Ohio's primary election is still about nine months off — a few months more than Vance has been in office. But the endorsement is dropping early ahead of a perhaps crowded primary where several possible candidates have not yet officially entered the race.
The GOP Senate field
If Moreno earns his party's nomination, he'll face off against Ohio Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. So far, Moreno will face off against Republican state Sen. Matt Dolan, a Chagrin Falls resident who finished a close third in the 2022 primary contest.
Other notable Republicans, including Secretary of State Frank LaRose and U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, are also flirting with joining the race, though they have not made any official announcements.
In a press release announcing his endorsement, Vance praised Moreno's business experience, as well as his commitment to issues like the southern border and confronting China that were central to Vance’s own campaign.
"It's time to turn the tides on the establishment insiders who sell out our country to special interests and elect more political outsiders like Bernie, who will always put America First in Washington, D.C.," Vance said.
A source close to Vance familiar with his thinking explained the early endorsement is meant to avoid "the bloody primary fight" that played out last cycle. That fight left Vance with "depleted resources" when the general election rolled around.
"(Vance) believes that Bernie is the candidate best positioned to quickly unify both the conservative grass roots and the Ohio donor class around his campaign," the source explained.
Perhaps Vance's endorsement will discourage some further entrants, but it's far from a certainty.
Dolan — whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians — is already in the race, and he can personally fund much of his campaign just as he did in 2022. If Davidson runs, he'll likely have the backing of Club for Growth, the well-heeled conservative organization that backed last cycle's GOP runner-up Josh Mandel.
LaRose, meanwhile, is the only one of the bunch who has won a statewide election.
Moreno drew a connection between his bid and Vance's, describing them both as entrepreneurs and "political outsiders."
"The career politicians and establishment insiders in both parties have failed us all, and just like J.D., I will be a fighter for Ohio's workers and families against the corrupt special interests in the swamp."
Still, it would be difficult to find two more well-connected political outsiders. Before Vance ran he published a best-selling memoir and carved out a place for himself on the right-wing lecture circuit. During last year's contest he earned the endorsement of Donald Trump — widely seen as crucial to his primary win.
Moreno's son in law is U.S. Rep. Max Miller, R-OH, and he has connections with the former president as well. Early in the 2022 primary, Moreno bowed out after a personal meeting with Trump.
A campaign staffer familiar with the meeting explained, "Bernie's decision to drop last time wasn't about JD, but rather about not seeing a path to victory for himself after meeting with Trump and realizing he was not likely to get the endorsement."
They went on to add that after Moreno left the race, he and Vance grew close.
"Not only did Bernie campaign with JD and help him with fundraising during the primary and general," the staffer described, "but Team Vance even brought Bernie in to play Tim Ryan during debate prep."
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