From Underdog To Winner: The Story Of Bernie Moreno's Trump-Backed Triumph

By Tommy Wilson | Wednesday, 20 March 2024 04:30 PM
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In the recent Ohio Republican Senate primary, two victors emerged: Bernie Moreno, a prominent Cleveland-based businessman, and former President Donald Trump.

Moreno, who owns a luxury car dealership, leveraged Trump's endorsement to secure a win in the fiercely contested and expensive GOP nomination race.

"I want to thank President Trump for all he did for me, for this campaign, for his unwavering support," Moreno expressed in his victory speech. He proudly stated that he wore his endorsement from Trump as a badge of honor.

Moreno's triumph over state Sen. Matt Dolan and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose in the grueling primary battle sets the stage for a general election face-off against veteran Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. This race could potentially tip the scales in favor of the Republicans regaining Senate majority in November.

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The closing days of the Senate primary were characterized as a face-off between Trump and the MAGA/America First faction of the party, rallying behind Moreno, and the conservative establishment, backing Dolan. The primary was also seen as a measure of Trump's significant influence over the Republican Party.

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Trump, who recently secured the GOP presidential nomination, making him the presumptive 2024 nominee, effortlessly won Ohio's Republican presidential primary on Tuesday. However, Moreno's victory in the competitive Senate race arguably represents a more significant win for Trump than his presidential primary success.

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"An endorsement from Donald J. Trump is the most powerful endorsement in modern political history," Moreno underscored in an exclusive Fox News interview at his primary night celebration. "There's never been anything like it before – probably won't be anything like it afterwards."

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He further stated that Trump's backing "was probably decisive" in his primary victory. "I think it was a victory for the [Trump] agenda. For the America First agenda," he added.

Dolan, who did not seek Trump's endorsement, conceded that "I think it's pretty self-evident that Donald Trump's endorsement for Bernie Moreno was a key factor for Bernie winning."

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Trump was aiming for a repeat performance in Ohio. Two years prior, he backed now Sen. JD Vance in a crowded and combative Republican Senate nomination race, propelling Vance to victory in the 2022 primary. That primary also included Dolan and Moreno, who withdrew a few months before the primary after meeting with Trump.

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Fast-forward to the present, and Trump returned to Ohio this past weekend after Dolan surged in the polls and secured the endorsement of two-term Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and former Sen. Rob Portman, part of the state's Republican old guard.

At a rally outside Dayton, Trump labeled Dolan a "weak RINO" [a derogatory acronym for "Republicans in name only"] and accused the state senator of "trying to become the next Mitt Romney."

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Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and establishment Republican senator from Utah, is despised by Trump and the MAGA movement.

Moreno was also joined on the campaign trail in the closing days by two top Trump allies – Vance and Arizona Senate candidate and 2022 gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake.

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In the end, the support from Trump and team MAGA propelled Moreno to a double-digit victory over Dolan, with LaRose trailing in third place.

Moreno was not the only Ohio Republican buoyed by Trump. This past weekend, the former president endorsed state Rep. Derek Merrin in the GOP primary in Ohio's 9th Congressional District. On Tuesday, Merrin was projected to win over former state Rep. Craig Riedel.

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With the exit of controversial candidate J.R. Majewski from the primary earlier this month, Republicans are hopeful that Merrin can defeat veteran Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur in November.

"Donald Trump is the most important endorsement in Ohio, bar none," longtime Republican strategist and 2016 Trump campaign veteran Mike Biundo told Fox News on the eve of the Ohio primary.

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Biundo, who has worked on multiple campaigns in Ohio, emphasized that "Trump moves numbers and helps to hand victories to those he endorses. It’s just a fact. Just look at Sen. JD Vance. He owes his seat to the last minute Trump endorsement."

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However, Trump's endorsement record in contested Republican primaries is not perfect.

"This is Trump's party and his endorsement in contested primaries has proven to be helpful, but it's not a lock," veteran Republican strategist and communicator Ryan Williams noted.

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An Ohio-based Republican consultant, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely, last week called the Republican Senate primary "a litmus test" of Trump's sway over the GOP.

"The real question is whether President Trump's endorsement still carries weight with Republican primary voters in Ohio," the consultant said. "It's that simple and straight forward, and I think ultimately the answer is yes."

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