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This Is The First Big Test Of Donald Trump's Endorsement Power In 2024

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a Buckeye Values PAC rally on Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Vandalia, Ohio.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a Buckeye Values PAC rally on Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Vandalia, Ohio. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Donald Trump was in the Buckeye State on Saturday to convince his supporters to back his pick for Senate in a race that could make or break the GOP’s hopes for a Senate majority.

Few if any Republican primaries this year are turning out to be as competitive Ohio’s deadlocked three-way race on Tuesday, in which Trump is supporting businessman Bernie Moreno against Secretary of State Frank LaRose and state Sen. Matt Dolan, a millionaire attorney whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians Major League Baseball team.

Trump made a point of bashing Dolan, who appears to be Moreno’s biggest threat, for the team’s rebrand from the Indians to the Guardians at the end of the 2021 season — a move some on the right criticized as caving to “woke” demands.

“He’s easily pushed around by the woke left lunatics who renamed his family’s baseball team,” Trump said at the rally, hosted by the pro-Moreno super PAC Buckeye Values at an airport just outside Dayton.

Trump described Dolan as a RINO, or Republican-in-name-only, and claimed he was “trying to become the next Mitt Romney.”

“I think Mitt Romney is his hero,” Trump said.

Trump’s endorsement of Moreno here is the first real test of his kingmaking ability since the 2022 midterms, which were a mixed bag for Trump and the GOP. Republicans were unable to retake a Senate majority, at least in part, because Trump chose to back extreme candidates in key swing-state primaries.

A notable exception that year was in Ohio, where Trump backed J.D. Vance, the author and venture capitalist who emerged from a crowded primary to capture an open seat. Vance was an earlier backer of Moreno and was also at the rally to support him.

“What the establishment RINOs are doing to Bernie Moreno is disgraceful,” Vance said Saturday. “I’m sure you’ve seen the TV ads, I’m sure you’ve seen the money pouring into this state.”

Republicans are hoping for the same result in what’s expected to be a tougher race against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who has an established populist brand in Ohio that transcends party labels.

But Trump’s last-minute rally is anything but a show of confidence in Moreno, a former luxury car dealer who’s never held elected office. That Trump was here at all — when he’s tied up with his own campaign and legal issues — suggests that Moreno’s backers are worried he could lose.

There’s more than just Trump’s ego riding on Moreno’s success. Trump’s ability to enact his agenda in a possible second term would be severely limited without full Republican control of Congress. A loss for Trump in Ohio could also back up the idea that a significant segment of GOP primary voters are ready to move on from the former president.

Brown tweeted his response to the rally: “No matter who wins Tuesday, I’ll beat them in November.”

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