In tight Republican primary in Ohio, Newt Gingrich chooses his candidate | ET REALITY

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The Senate race in Ohio is one of the best opportunities for Republicans to take a seat from Democrats next year. But first, the Republican Party has to survive a three-way primary without damaging its increasingly strong brand in the state.

Early polls suggest a close race, but Bernie Moreno, a businessman making his second run for the Senate, has begun collecting the kind of political awards that belie his status as a relative newcomer to electoral politics.

Since opening his campaign in April, Moreno has raised nearly $3.5 million. That figure includes $2.3 million he raised during his first three months as a candidate, when he outraised all other non-incumbent Republican Senate candidates in the country.

Moreno, known for his chain of car dealerships in the state, has earned the endorsement of some high-profile Republicans, including former President Newt Gingrich, who will announce his support on Tuesday, according to Moreno campaign officials.

“As a conservative, political outsider, and successful business leader, Bernie knows what it will take to disrupt the establishment in Washington, DC,” Gingrich said in a statement.

In addition to Gingrich, Moreno has garnered support from Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Charlie Kirk, the combative young conservative activist who is the founder of Turning Point USA, a right-wing student group.

The Republican Senate campaigns of his two rivals (Matt Dolan, a state senator, and Frank LaRose, Ohio secretary of state) downplayed Gingrich’s endorsement. They said Moreno’s out-of-state endorsement was intended to give the appearance of support from within the state and mask his previous support for positions unpopular among Republican primary voters.

“He is an ideological swinger who will say or do anything to get elected,” said Chris Maloney, Dolan’s spokesman. “Maybe that helped him sell cars, but it destroys voter confidence and would make him a terrible Republican candidate.”

Ohio’s three Republicans have increasingly attacked each other as the primaries approach. The state’s election, on March 19, means that early voting, which begins on February 21, opens in less than four months.

“Despite running once and spending a lot of his own money, Bernie hasn’t registered with Ohio voters and I don’t see that changing; he’s a car salesman and it shows,” said Rick Gorka, spokesman for LaRose. Campaign.

Last week, a campaign memo from Moreno mocked LaRose’s fundraising and attacked his Senate bid for being mired in “political ineptitude and negative press.”

The memo criticized LaRose for his role in a ballot initiative in August that failed to make it more difficult to amend the state Constitution. The defeat of the measure, known as Issue 1, was widely seen as a victory for abortion rights supporters who back a constitutional amendment in November that would guarantee abortion rights in the state.

TO survey This month from Emerson College showed all three Republican candidates within one or two percentage points of incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat seeking his fourth six-year term. That’s within the poll’s margin of error of 4.5 points.

The poll did not test the primary race, but it did show that all three candidates are in strong position among pro-Trump voters in Ohio, said Spencer Kimball, executive director of polling at Emerson College.

“It looks like it’s a pretty open race between the three candidates,” Kimball said.

Reeves Oyster, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said the three Republicans would be flawed candidates in a general election against Brown. Both LaRose and Moreno have expressed support for a national abortion ban, which other Republican candidates have distanced themselves from as the party struggles to defend the position.

“No matter who comes out of this primary, it is clear that they will not fight for Ohioans or the most important issues in their daily lives,” Ms. Oyster said.

In his first campaign last year, Moreno had an early lead in fundraising, but struggled to maintain that momentum. Ultimately, he loaned his campaign nearly $4 million and raised another $2.8 million. He ended his campaign about two months before former President Donald J. Trump endorsed Vance, the eventual winner, in the final days of the race.

Born in Colombia, Mr. Moreno immigrated to the United States with his parents as a child. He has been an active donor in Republican politics, but did not run for office until last year, a turn that forced him to rethink his positions on some high-profile issues.

While he previously supported a path toward citizenship for many undocumented immigrants, said at a candidate forum this month that all recent undocumented immigrants should be deportee.

He also initially resisted Trump’s rise, referring to him as a “lunatic who invaded the party” in 2016. But he has since called Trump “one of the best presidents I’ve ever seen.” Last year, he hired Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, to advise his campaign. And this year, his campaign team includes Andy Surabian, another Trump adviser.

Moreno’s daughter, Emily, was a GOP official in 2020 and recently married Rep. Max Miller, a former Trump aide who won his first election in Ohio last year.

Moreno has invested $3 million of his own money in his campaign and has about $5 million available, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

Dolan, who also ran for Senate in 2022 and finished third, has donated $7 million to his campaign this year and has about $6.7 million on hand. His last offer was backed up by more than 130 current and former Ohio officials.

LaRose, a former state senator, entered the race in July and raised $1 million in his first 10 weeks as a candidate. A poll this month commissioned by LaRose’s campaign showed LaRose leading a three-way primary with 32.2 percent, compared to 22.5 percent for Dolan and 10.4 percent for Moreno, according to an internal memo.

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