EXCLUSIVE – First-term Republican Sen. JD Vance of Ohio is weighing in on his state’s burgeoning 2024 Senate primary.
Vance is endorsing business executive Bernie Moreno in the Republican primary to challenge longtime Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown next year in a race that could determine if the GOP wins back the Senate majority. News of the endorsement was shared first with Fox News Digital on Monday.
Moreno, a successful Cleveland-based business leader and luxury auto dealership giant, is making his second straight bid for the Senate. So is the other prominent GOP candidate in the race to date, state Sen. Matt Dolan, a former top county prosecutor and Ohio assistant attorney general.
'Bernie is a lifelong businessman, who has created thousands of good-paying middle-class jobs and is a strong America First conservative, who will never stop fighting to protect Ohio workers and families. Bernie is committed to securing our southern border, getting tough on China and taking the fight to the woke corporations waging war against our conservative values,' Vance said in a statement.
Vance, who called Moreno a 'friend,' added that 'It’s time to turn the tides on the establishment insiders who sell out our country to special interests and elect more political outsiders like Bernie, who will always put America First in Washington, DC. I’m looking forward to having Bernie as a colleague in the U.S. Senate.'
Moreno, who invested millions of his own money to run TV commercials to try and boost his 2022 Senate bid, suspended his first Senate campaign in February last year after requesting and holding a private meeting with former President Donald Trump.
The crowded and combustible 2022 GOP Senate nomination in Ohio was eventually won by Vance, a former venture capitalist and best-selling author who landed Trump’s endorsement just before last May’s primary. Vance went on to defeat longtime Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan in last November’s general election to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman.
After dropping out of the race in 2022, Moreno forged a close relationship with Vance. Moreno raised money and campaigned with Vance across the state and played the role of Ryan in Vance’s debate preparations. Moreno, an immigrant who arrived in the U.S. legally from Colombia with his family as a boy, is spotlighting his credentials as an outsider as he runs for the 2024 GOP Senate nomination.
'I’m honored to have earned the endorsement of Senator Vance. Not only is he a close personal friend, but as a fellow political outsider and entrepreneur, he’s shown that DC desperately needs new ways of thinking,' Moreno said in a statement. 'When I win this race, I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with JD in the Senate to fight for Ohio families, end the invasion at our southern border, protect American culture and traditions, rein in Big Tech and Big Media, stop Biden’s radical Green New Deal policies and defend our America First conservative values against the unholy alliance of woke corporations and Big Government.'
Moreno argued that 'the career politicians and establishment insiders in both parties have failed us all, and just like JD, I will be a fighter for Ohio’s workers and families against the corrupt special interests in the swamp. As Senator, Ohioans can trust that I will always do everything possible to grow our middle class and will be dedicated to putting what’s best for America and its people at the center of everything I do.'
A source close to Vance told Fox News that 'beyond being personally close to Bernie and viewing him as an ideological ally, JD is endorsing Bernie so early because he feels strongly about ensuring that we don’t see a replay of the type of bloody primary fight that he had to deal with last cycle, which left him with depleted resources going into the general election. He believes that Bernie is the candidate best positioned to quickly unify both the conservative grassroots and the Ohio donor class around his campaign to give Republicans the strongest shot at defeating Sherrod Brown next year.'
Due to their friendship, it’s no surprise that Vance is backing Moreno in the 2024 Senate primary. And there’s speculation that the senator’s backing of Moreno may be a prelude to a Trump endorsement in the months ahead.
Trump, who’s the clear front-runner in the GOP presidential nomination race as he makes his third straight White House run, was endorsed by Moreno in February.
And Trump called Moreno 'highly respected' as he took to social media in April to encourage Moreno to launch a Senate campaign. And earlier this month, Moreno was endorsed by Trump ally Charlie Kirk and his Turning Point Action conservative political organization.
While Moreno has the ability to self-fund his campaign, he’s expected to fundraise aggressively, as he did in his first Senate bid. Moreno’s campaign announced that they hauled in contributions from more than 500,000 donors during the first week after their Senate launch.
Dolan – whose family owns Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians – also shelled out millions of dollars of his own money to run ads for his 2022 Senate bid. He surged near the end of last year’s primary race, coming in third behind Vance and just behind former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who came in second. Dolan is expected to again invest millions of his own money into his 2024 campaign.
Rep. Warren Davidson and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose are among other Republicans considering Senate bids.
The winner of next year’s GOP primary will challenge Brown, who’s the only Democrat to win statewide in Ohio in the past decade. Brown will be heavily targeted by Republicans in a state that was once a premiere battleground but has shifted red over the past six years.
Democrats currently control the U.S. Senate with a 51-49 majority, but Republicans are looking at a very 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. Five others are in key swing states narrowly carried by Biden in 2020: Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.