DemDaily: Eyes on Ohio

July 18, 2023

The 2024 Ohio US Senate race is heating up with the announcement of a third GOP opponent challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced his candidacy Monday, joining State Senator Matt Dolan and Cleveland businessman and Trump ally Bernie Moreno in their quest for the GOP nomination.

Brown is one of three Democratic Senators, along with Joe Manchin (WV) and Jon Tester (MT), defending their seats in states carried by Trump in both 2016 and 2020.

While Ohio is still considered a presidential battleground state, the higher stakes pivot on Brown's reelection -- considered critical to Democrats' chances of retaining their Senate majority in 2024.

The Landscape
Once the bellwether of the country, the Midwest battleground state of Ohio broke its 60-year record of voting with the winning presidential candidate when it awarded Donald Trump an eight point victory over Joe Biden in 2020.

The Buckeye State has become increasingly conservative, with Republicans holding a trifecta  -- control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor's office -- and a triplex with additional control of the secretary of state and attorney general offices.

The congressional delegation has a total of 15 members, with 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Brown and three state Supreme Court justices are the only Ohio Democrats in statewide office.

Democrats hoped to regain lost ground in the 2022 Senate race to succeed retiring Republican Senator Rob Portman. Despite a well-funded and energetic campaign, however, Congressman Tim Ryan, a popular moderate, pro-labor Democrat, lost to Trump-endorsed venture capitalist and bestselling author J.D. Vance (R), 46.9% to 53%.

The Incumbent
A native of Mansfield, Ohio, Brown received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Russian studies from Yale University in 1974 and master's degrees in Education and Public Administration from Ohio State University.

During his senior year in college, Brown successfully ran for state representative, becoming the youngest person elected to that body in the state's history. He served until 1982, when he was elected Ohio Secretary of State, Brown was reelected in 1986, and suffered his only career loss in 1990 to Republican Bob Taft.

Brown was elected to Ohio's 13th Congressional District in 1992, succeeding retiring eight-term incumbent Don Pease (D). He was reelected to the suburban Cleveland seat six times.

In 2006, Brown unseated two-term Republican US Senator (and now Governor) Mike DeWine, 56.16% to 43.82%, and was reelected in 2012, defeating State Treasurer Josh Mandel by 14 points. In 2018 he fended off a challenge by Congressman Jim Renacci by a 7 point margin.

In the Senate, Brown Chairs the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and serves on the Agriculture Committee, Finance Committee and Veteran's Affairs Committee. Although a progressive populist with one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, Brown's pro-labor and protectionist stances resonate with working-class Ohioans, and he is consistently ranked as one of the most popular swing state Senators.

Although the GOP's top Senate target, Brown is a formidable campaigner who has, so far, withstood the state's increasingly red bent.

The Opposition
The entry of Frank LaRose, a former Akron-based state senator and current Secretary of State, enters the race as a self-described “battle-tested” conservative.

LaRose won statewide office in 2018 with just over 50% of the vote, and was reelected Secretary of State in 2022 with 59% -- with the support of Donald Trump. While he did not embrace the former president's 2022 election conspiracies, LaRose established a new public integrity division of his office to investigate the public "crisis of confidence" in Ohio elections.

Chagrin Falls State Senator Matt Dolan, who announced his candidacy in January, was one of seven candidates who vied for the open US Senate seat in 2022.

The only anti-Trump candidate in the race, Dolan came in third (23.3%) behind Josh Mandel's 23.9% and Vance, who surged to a winning 32.2% following Trump's endorsement weeks before the May 3rd primary.

Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians and self-financed most of the $11 million he raised in the 2022 primary, has already invested $4 million in his 2024 bid. He reported a total of $4.6 million raised at the end of the April 1-June 30, 2023 second fundraising quarter, with $3.9 million cash on hand.

Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno entered the primary April 19 with the encouragement of Trump, and in May received an early endorsement from Vance.

The wealthy car dealer and tech entrepreneur was briefly a candidate for the 2022 GOP Senate nomination, largely self-funded his $6.6 million, three-month primary campaign before dropping out at Trump's request.

Moreno, who has yet to loan to his 2023 campaign, reported raising $2.2 million at the end of the second quarter, with $1.5 million cash on hand.

Brown, however, has more cash on hand than his three GOP challengers combined. Of the $8.7 million his campaign has in the bank, $5 million was raised in the last quarter.

Note: In on of the most signficant elections of 2023, Ohioans will go to the polls August 8 to vote on Ohio Issue 1, a special election referendum sent to the ballot by the state's Republican-controlled legislature and supported by Brown's GOP challengers. The measure would raise the requirement to amend the Ohio Constitution from a simple majority to 60% and is widely regarded as an effort to thwart passage of an abortion-rights citizen initiative that will be on the ballot in November.
See:DemDaily: Ohio's Ballot Battles7/11/23. Early voting is underway!

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Ballotpedia, AP, Cincinnati Inquirer, Colombus Dispatch, Axios, The Morning Journal, The Hill

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