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Key GOP endorsement could be on the way in Ohio's 2024 US Senate race

 Republican U.S. Senate candidates debate on stage at Central State University
Josh Bickel
Ohio Debate Commission
Republican U.S. Senate candidates debate on stage at Central State University in 2022.

It’s nine months before Ohio Republicans go to the polls to pick a candidate to run against Democrat Sherrod Brown next fall. GOP U.S. Senator J.D. Vance recently endorsed Cleveland area car dealer Bernie Moreno as the Republican candidate in 2024. And some political experts said they think that’s a sign Moreno might pick up another key endorsement.

University of Cincinnati Political Science Professor David Niven said it's unclear what effect Vance's endorsement will have on Moreno's campaign, especially when you look at the 2022 GOP campaign for the open seat vacated by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who retired at the end of his term.

"In our last U.S. Senate race, the Republican incumbent Rob Portman endorsed a candidate and that had exactly zero effect," Niven said.

Portman backed Jane Timken, a former Ohio Republican Party chair. But it was another endorsement that year that made waves in the race. And Niven said Vance, who won with the endorsement of former President Trump, might carry weight with that base this year.

“So, this is like almost a mini-Trump endorsement and certainly their hope is to build on this and maybe scare away a few potential candidates because obviously we had a very large Republican field in 2022 and he would certainly like to avoid having every major Republican in the state to declare and join the race,” Niven said.

At one point, there were eight Republican candidates in the race in 2022, including Moreno. But he dropped out of that race three months before the primary after having a meeting with Trump. Trump ended up supporting Vance and so did Moreno.

Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, said Vance may now be thinking it's Moreno's turn and that's the reason for the early endorsement from Vance, who who took office in January. Beck said a Trump endorsement could follow, especially if no one new enters the race. And Beck added that could be a game changer in this campaign.

"I would think Moreno is the odds on favorite to get it, no matter who is in the race," Beck said.

Beck said a Trump endorsement in the race might not carry as much weight as it once did now that the former president is facing legal troubles. But he said, in Ohio, Trump still appears to be a good brand.

“There is a Trump base there, or here in Ohio that I think is going to think favorably upon any candidate Trump is supporting.” Beck said.

Beck noted Vance himself saw a ten-point boost when he got the Trump nomination in 2022.

At this point, there are only three Republican candidates who have formally jumped into the 2024 U.S. Senate race. In addition to Moreno, Ohio State Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians, and Inventor Joel Mutchler from Canal Fulton, have declared their candidacies. But there are others Republicans who are thought to be considering running. They include Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.