Jim Jordan endorses Trump-backed candidate in Ohio Senate primary

CLEVELAND — Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has endorsed Bernie Moreno in his state’s combative Republican Senate primary, signaling consolidation of support around former President Donald Trump’s preferred candidate in one of the biggest races of 2024.

Jordan, a Trump loyalist and a leading figure on the political right in Ohio, announced his support for Moreno in a statement first shared with NBC News.

“Bernie is a true America First conservative, and will make us proud in the U.S. Senate,” Jordan said. “Our country needs common sense conservative fighters now more than ever. Bernie is a political outsider who has lived the American Dream. His perspective, his grit and his conservative values will serve Ohio well in the U.S. Senate.”

Moreno, a former Cleveland-area car dealer and blockchain entrepreneur, scored Trump’s endorsement last month, a development that could afford him a distinct advantage in a field that also features Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and state Sen. Matt Dolan. Trump won Ohio twice by 8 points, and his endorsement of J.D. Vance here two years ago lifted the political novice out of a bruising primary and catapulted him to an open Senate seat. Vance has also endorsed Moreno.

The winner of the March 19 primary will face Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election this year.

Bernie Moreno waves at a rally  Delaware, Ohio in 2022.
Bernie Moreno at a rally in Delaware, Ohio, in 2022. Joe Maiorana / AP file

“As the next U.S. senator from Ohio, I’m excited to work closely with Rep. Jordan to always defend our conservative values and, in his immortal words, do what we said we were going to do,” Moreno said. “The reason that so many strong conservatives like Congressman Jordan, Sen. Vance and President Trump are uniting behind our campaign is because they know that Ohioans are sick and tired of career politician insiders like Sherrod Brown and are ready to send a political outsider to the U.S. Senate to replace him.”

Ohio is one of the top three pickup opportunities — along with Montana and West Virginia, two other states Trump won decisively — for Republicans as they aim to flip partisan control of the Senate in 2024. It also could be one of the most expensive races in the country.

Moreno and Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians, have substantial self-funding capabilities, and LaRose has built-in name recognition from two successful statewide campaigns. But party leaders and other insiders have coalesced in recent weeks around Moreno, a dynamic that has accelerated since Trump’s endorsement.

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, who had considered entering the Senate primary, endorsed Moreno last week. So did the Club for Growth, a conservative group that has been at odds with Trump and had been pushing Davidson’s potential bid. Four county parties are also behind Moreno.

LaRose, who has courted Trump and his supporters, had hoped the former president would stay neutral. Dolan has focused largely on policy, such as border security and the fentanyl crisis, and has expressed interest in moving on from the Trump era. All three candidates list dozens of local elected leaders and activists on their endorsement pages. But Moreno has also attracted support from across the GOP’s ideological spectrum nationally, including Kari Lake, the election-denying Arizona Senate candidate, and Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Marco Rubio of Florida.

“Moreno’s ability to consolidate different wings of the GOP and get grassroots support has been incredibly impressive,” said one veteran Republican strategist in Ohio who is not affiliated with any of the campaigns. “It’s over unless the Dolan family dumps $25 million, and even then it’s tough to overcome the momentum.”

Cash could be a major factor given the resources Moreno and Dolan have. LaRose is not independently wealthy, and even with a $250,000 personal loan to his campaign last year, he remains far behind in the money race. While Moreno and Dolan have had a heavy presence on Ohio airwaves, LaRose has yet to run TV ads. He is expected to rely heavily on a super PAC that recently received a boost from GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein, Cleveland.com reported.

LaRose is prepared for the fight and is “still the front-runner,” said his spokesperson, Rick Gorka, alluding to earlier polls that showed the secretary of state in the lead. Gorka added that LaRose can count on goodwill from grassroots voters and activists who appreciate his central role in an ultimately unsuccessful effort last year to defeat a ballot initiative that enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution.

“I think that between the campaign and the PAC, which we obviously have no control over, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for voters to hear from Frank,” Gorka said.

“It is a three-way race. I don’t see that changing at all,” added Gorka, who also mocked Moreno’s brief candidacy in the 2022 Senate primary and the Major League Baseball franchise run by the Dolan family. “I wish the Dolans would actually have spent some money this offseason to make the team better instead of this ego project for one of their sons.”

Dolan’s money has helped keep him on TV, including a 60-second statewide commercial that launched last week — part of a $2 million advertising buy — and features an Ohio father who lost his son to a fentanyl overdose.

Chris Maloney, a Dolan strategist, telegraphed potential attacks against the other candidates and called out LaRose for firing a spokesperson in the secretary of state’s office last year over social media posts poking fun at Trump.

“Frank LaRose reinvented himself, even fired a loyal aide, all for an endorsement he didn’t get,” Maloney said. “Bernie Moreno is an ideological shapeshifter who will say or do anything to get elected. He is unvetted, untested and gaffe-prone. The more voters learn about Bernie, the less they’re going to like him.”

There has been no public polling of the race since Trump announced his support. The first televised debate with the GOP candidates is scheduled for Jan. 22 in Cleveland.