High-profile elections in Ohio could give Republicans a chance to expand clout in Washington

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republicans are watching a pair of high−profile elections in Ohio on Tuesday that could determine their chances of picking up critical seats this fall and expanding their power in Washington.

One is a contentious and expensive Republican primary for the chance to face third−term Sen. Sherrod Brown this fall. The second is a GOP matchup in the 9th Congressional District held by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, of Toledo, the longest−serving woman in Congress.

Both Brown and Kaptur are considered among the year’s most vulnerable Democrats, amid Ohio’s tack to the political right in recent years. With Democrats holding a narrow voting majority in the Senate and Republicans maintaining a thin margin in the U.S. House, both races have already drawn outsized attention from national party leaders.

Of highest interest Tuesday is the outcome of a three−way Senate contest for the chance to run against Brown in the fall. The race is testing the depth of GOP allegiances to former President Donald Trump in a state that voted for him convincingly twice.

Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno, running as a “political outsider,” failed to parlay Trump’s endorsement into the type of runaway lead over his two rivals — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and state Sen. Matt Dolan — that author and venture capitalist JD Vance experienced two years ago. Trump held a campaign rally for Moreno on Saturday.

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that in 2008, someone with access to Moreno’s work email account created a profile on an adult website seeking “Men for 1−on−1 sex.” The AP could not definitively confirm that it was created by Moreno himself. Moreno’s lawyer said a former intern created the account and provided a statement from the intern, Dan Ricci, who said he created the account as “part of a juvenile prank.”

Questions about the profile have circulated in GOP circles for the past month, sparking frustration among senior Republican operatives about Moreno’s potential vulnerability in a general election, according to seven people who are directly familiar with conversations about how to address the matter. They requested anonymity to avoid running afoul of Trump and his allies.

Also last week, Dolan — a largely self−funded candidate who did not seek Trump’s backing — won the support of two of the state’s best−known Republican moderates: Gov. Mike DeWine and former U.S. Sen. Rob Portman. LaRose, meanwhile, heads into primary day as the only contender who has previously won statewide office.

Trump issued a last−minute endorsement of state Rep. Derek Merrin on Monday in the Toledo−area congressional primary, the latest twist for a months−long roller coaster ride of a primary that’s included swift entries and exits, candidate gaffes and bouncing endorsements. At one point, Vance, House Speaker Mike Johnson and Rep. Jim Jordan, a vocal Trump ally, were aligned with three competing campaigns.

Things settled down when Trump−aligned candidate J.R. Majewski, who lost badly to Kaptur in 2022, abruptly left the race earlier this month amid pushback for remarks he made disparaging Special Olympics athletes.

That left three candidates in the race: Merrin, backed by Johnson — and, as of Monday, Trump; former state Rep. Craig Riedel, backed by Jordan; and former Napoleon Mayor Steve Lankenau. Trump’s endorsement came as Riedel was airing searing Merrin attack ads, referencing the legislator’s ties to convicted former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.

Merrin, 37, is a term−limited fourth−term state representative who led an intraparty rebellion in the Ohio House last year after losing a bitter battle for speaker. He joined the congressional race on the filing deadline after audio that surfaced of Riedel criticizing Trump began raising concerns inside the party about Riedel’s electability.

Riedel, 57, was among candidates who lost the nomination to Majewski in 2022. He raised more than $1.1 million headed into primary day, the highest of any candidate and some 10 times more than Merrin. But Merrin has benefited from help from national Republicans, with the Congressional Leadership Fund spending more than $750,000 on his behalf.

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Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko in Washington contributed to this report.

Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press

Photo: AP