Analysis: Frank LaRose wants Trump's endorsement. Will he get it?
Frank LaRose, the Ohio Secretary of State running for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, desperately wants Donald Trump to show him some love by endorsing his candidacy.
But his past seems to be catching up with him.
Still, LaRose seems hell-bent on convincing the multitudes of Trump-loving MAGA voters who will go to the polls in next March's primary election that he is a pure Trump devotee — 99.44% pure, just like Ivory Soap.
LaRose's campaign did not respond to WVXU's request to interview the candidate.
LaRose is opposed by two Republicans in the Senate primary. State Sen. Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls and Cleveland-area luxury car dealer and blockchain entrepreneur Bernie Moreno.
Dolan, in his 2022 campaign for the Senate nomination against J.D. Vance, avoided mentioning Trump at all, focusing his campaign on President Biden and Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic incumbent he wants to take on in Nov. 2024.
Moreno, who dropped out of the 2022 race after talking with Trump, called Trump a "lunatic" and "maniac" back before he was a candidate for anything, when he was simply a deep-pocketed GOP donor.
But Moreno is now a true believer and the father-in-law of a northern Ohio congressman, Max Miller, who worked in the Trump administration and is a Trump favorite. And Vance, Ohio's junior senator, has already endorsed Moreno in the race.
If anyone is to get a Trump endorsement in this three-candidate race, the smart money is on Moreno.
Even worse for LaRose is that he raised just over $1 million in the first quarter of his campaign, from July 1 through September 1. for his campaign so far. Moreno and Dolan are both very wealthy men and have loaned millions of their own money to their campaigns.
LaRose has lent his campaign $250,000. He can't match the millions of his opponents.
Being so far behind in fundraising just exacerbates the problem for LaRose and makes his frantic pursuit of the MAGA votes so important.
But LaRose also knows that Donald Trump is not the type of mellow politician who believes in redemption. The notion of "forgive and forget" is not in his DNA.
LaRose showed up in August on NBC's Meet the Press and committed what, in Trump World, is the greatest sin of them all. He suggested, in a backhand way, that Trump was not the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election.
When NBC's Chuck Todd asked LaRose if he thought Vice President Mike Pence was right in resisting pressure from Trump to not certify the 2020 election results, LaRose said Pence "made the best decision he could with the information in front of him."
Now, that may sound like weak soup to most folks. Not exactly a ringing repudiation of Trump's Big Lie about election fraud.
But the twice impeached, four times indicted ex-president has rabbit ears when it comes to any kind of slight, no matter how inconsequential. And, by all reports, Trump saw the video and was not a happy camper.
Then there is the little matter of the 2016 presidential election, when LaRose positioned himself as a Never Trumper and supported then-Ohio governor John Kasich, one of Trump's opponents for the GOP presidential nomination.
LaRose has had to spend an inordinate amount of time so far trying win over the MAGA crowd and to convince them that he is no traitor to the cause.
On October 6, LaRose appeared on conservative talk show host Bob Frantz Always Right Radio program in Cleveland, where the host slammed him with questions about LaRose's past criticisms of Trump.
LaRose blamed it all on Kasich, whom he said "fooled" him. And he said he saw the light and is backing Trump in the 2024 GOP presidential race.
"My Trump credentials are golden, rock solid," LaRose told Frantz. "It doesn't mean I have agreed with him on everything. But I am a strong supporter."
But just the fact that he had to explain his past transgressions on right-wing radio spoke volumes about the pickle LaRose is in.
LaRose had barely settled into the secretary of state's office in early 2019 when Trump let loose with a series of tweets attacking four Democratic congresswomen of color known as "The Squad."
Many thought the tweets were racist. So did LaRose, in an editorial board interview with the Enquirer.
"Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came," Trump wrote on X, then Twitter. "Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can't leave fast enough. I'm sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!"
"The president says things I would never condone, that I believe are false," LaRose said, according to the Enquirer. "The most recent tweet is racist — whether it was intended that way or not, I'm not in the man's mind and heart. I don't know, that's how it sounds to me."
The four women Trump was referring to were Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Three of them were born in America and Omar, a native of Somalia, became a U.S. citizen in 2000.
LaRose was right in 2019. Trump was wrong.
Still, Trump may hold it against him.
'He's doing what he has to do'
David B. Cohen, professor of political science at the University of Akron, said he is not surprised at all by LaRose catering to the MAGA crowd.
"He's doing what he has to do to get the nomination," Cohen said. "Every major candidate for office on the Republican side has to do it. Is it worth selling your soul to get Trump's endorsement? It depends on how badly you want it."
Trump, last year, pushed J.D. Vance over the top with his endorsement in a crowded GOP primary field; and Vance has been a reliable MAGA voice since taking over Rob Portman's Senate seat in January.
"I would be shocked if Moreno didn't get Trump's endorsement this time around," Cohen said. "I wouldn't be surprised if Trump promised him that when he talked him out of the race last year."
A Baldwin Wallace University Ohio Pulse poll released last week showed that all three GOP Senate candidates are not exactly universally known in Ohio. Moreno is unknown to 61% of Ohio voters, while Dolan is an unknown to 56% and LaRose to 43%.
Even Sherrod Brown, who has been around Ohio politics for decades, is unknown to nearly one of every five Ohio voters, according to the poll.
From the almost daily barrage of emails on the GOP primary from the Ohio Democratic Party, the Democrats are clearly convinced that LaRose is most likely to win the GOP primary.
If he does, he will face Brown — one of four Democrats running for re-election in a state won by Trump. Control of the Senate could be at stake.
Little wonder LaRose wants to bask in Trump's fond embrace.
As unlikely as that may be.