Home » Trump faces off against GOP establishment as he parachutes into contentious Republican Senate primary

Trump faces off against GOP establishment as he parachutes into contentious Republican Senate primary

by John Jefferson
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Donald Trump is aiming for a repeat performance.

Two years ago, the former president backed JD Vance in Ohio’s crowded and combative Republican Senate nomination race, boosting Vance to victory in the GOP primary a couple weeks later. 

Fast-forward to the present and Trump is returning to Ohio this weekend to once again support the Republican Senate candidate he endorsed in the state’s increasingly contentious GOP primary.

Trump, who earlier this week clinched the Republican presidential nomination and is now his party’s presumptive 2024 nominee, will headline a rally in Dayton, Ohio, Saturday or businessman Bernie Moreno. 


Trump’s trip will come three days before the state’s March 19 primary. The rally was announced Monday night by Buckeye Values PAC, a pro-Moreno group.

The move came hours after state Sen. Matt Dolan, one of the two other major GOP Senate primary contenders, along with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, was endorsed by two-term Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a former longtime U.S. senator and state attorney general.


Late last week, Dolan. a former top county prosecutor and Ohio assistant attorney general whose family owns Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians, also landed the backing of former Sen. Rob Portman. DeWine and Portman are considered top members of Ohio’s Republican old guard or establishment.

“Matt Dolan has a vision for the future. He listens. He fights. And he knows how to get results for Ohio,” DeWine said in endorsing Dolan.

And DeWine has said Dolan’s the strongest Republican candidate to defeat longtime Democrat Sherrod Brown in November.

Dolan, who along with Moreno is making his second straight bid for the Senate in Ohio, has highlighted that he’s a supporter of Trump’s policies but not the former president’s personality. Dolan is the only one of the three major candidates not to seek Trump’s support.

Moreno, an immigrant who arrived in the U.S. legally from Colombia and later became a successful Cleveland-based businessman and luxury auto dealership giant, was endorsed by Trump in December.

Vance, who will campaign with Moreno across Ohio on Monday, last year backed him, which was seen as a prelude to the eventual Trump endorsement. Moreno also enjoys the support of two other Trump allies — Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, a Buckeye State native.

JD Vance and Donald Trump in Ohio

After DeWine endorsed Dolan, Moreno framed the race as a battle between “the America-First Republican Party” and the “RINO establishment.”

And Andy Surabian, a senior Moreno campaign adviser who’s close to Trump’s political orbit, emphasized in a social media post that “the Ohio Senate race is officially Team America First vs Team RINO.”

RINO is a term used to insult some in the GOP as “Republicans in name only.”

There’s been a dearth of public polling in the Republican Senate primary, and the three major campaigns are treating the race as a dead heat ahead of next week’s primary. Millions have been spent by the campaigns and aligned super PACs to flood the airwaves with negative attack ads.

LaRose at the podium

And now Democrats are meddling in the primary. 

Duty and Country PAC, which is funded by Senate Majority PAC, the top super PAC supporting Senate Democrats, is dishing out nearly $3 million in the final days ahead of the primary to run ads boosting Moreno.

The winner of the GOP primary will face off in November against Brown, who is the only Democrat to win statewide in Ohio over the past decade. Brown is being heavily targeted by Republicans in a state that was once a premiere battleground before shifting red.

Democrats control the U.S. Senate with a 51-49 majority, but Republicans are looking at a favorable Senate map in 2024, with Democrats defending 23 of the 34 seats up for grabs. Three of those seats are in red states that Trump carried in 2020 — Ohio, Montana and West Virginia, where Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin is not running for re-election.

Five others seats are in key swing states narrowly carried by President Biden in 2020 — Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Trump is expected to clinch the GOP presidential nomination on March 12

As Trump locks up the GOP presidential nomination, he’s once again exerting increasing control over the Republican Party. 

A week ago, a top Trump ally and the former president’s daughter-in-law were installed as chair and co-chair of the Republican National Committee. On Monday, the new regime at the RNC pushed roughly 60 current staffers out the door.

But Trump’s clout with congressional Republicans suffered a setback this week, as the GOP-controlled House went against Trump’s wishes. A few weeks after downing a bipartisan border deal in Congress, partially due to the former president’s wishes, most House Republicans supported the passage — over Trump’s objections — of a bill that could eventually ban TikTok in the U.S.

The showdown in Ohio is one of the few major down-ballot GOP primaries where the Trump-backed candidate is at risk of losing.

“Trump’s got a lot invested in Bernie Moreno,” veteran Republican strategist Matt Gorman said.

Longtime Ohio-based GOP consultant Mike Hartley, who remains neutral in this year’s primary, told Fox News “it’s important to Trump, evidenced by the fact that he’s coming into the state, just like he did for JD Vance.”

“President Trump wants to have allies in Congress to help him get his agenda passed. I think it’s as simple as that,” Hartley added.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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