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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Ohio's 2024 Senate primary is shaping up to be a repeat of 2022

In this Nov. 6, 2018, photo, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, speaks to supporters after winning re-election during the Democratic election night party in Columbus, Ohio.
John Minchillo
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, speaks to supporters after winning re-election during the Democratic election night party in Columbus in 2018.

Cue Bill Murray. Ohio may be in store for a Groundhog Day election next year.

The 2024 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate nomination, in which the winner will face the difficult task of knocking off Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown, is beginning to remind some of us of the 2022 Senate primary, one of the nastiest, ugliest on record. It ended up producing J.D. Vance as the GOP nominee and eventual winner of now-retired Sen. Rob Portman's seat.

The 2024 version has some striking similarities: a growing field of actual and potential candidates that could rival the seven-member scrum of 2022; a potentially nasty primary season, with the candidates sniping at each other on a daily basis; and millions of dark money "independent expenditures" pouring into the state with dubious attack ads.

RELATED: Matt Dolan jumpstarts what's sure to be a crowded race for Sherrod Brown's seat in 2024

And, looming over it all, the specter of former President Donald Trump — either as the likely presidential nominee of the Republican Party or a convicted felon. Or both.

Here are four real and potential candidates:

republican senate candidates
From left
AP, Karen Kasler, courtesy, AP
From left: Matt Dolan, Bernie Moreno, Frank LaRose and Warren Davidson.

  • Matt Dolan, the state senator from northeast Ohio, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team. Dolan was a candidate in last year's primary. He had momentum in the final weeks of that campaign and might have won if the campaign had gone for a while longer.
  • Bernie Moreno, a Cleveland businessman who has made fortunes selling luxury cars and in the blockchain business. He, too, was a candidate in 2022, but dropped out early, Next week, he will formally kick off his campaign at a micro-brewery in Milford.
  • Frank LaRose, Ohio's secretary of state, has been plotting out his path to the Senate for years now. He's been walking a tightrope recently — touting his record for running clean and honest elections while at the same time cozying up to the Trump conspiracy theorists in the party. Moreno's entry will likely hasten LaRose's formal declaration of candidacy. You can book it.
  • Congressman Warren Davidson of Troy, whose geographically huge district now extends into western Hamilton County, is being urged to run by the Club for Growth, a deep-pocketed conservative group with enormous influence. The Club for Growth could create a bottomless pit of campaign funds for a Davidson campaign, if he decides to roll the dice and do it.

And, for a race where the candidate filing deadline is 10 months away, there can and likely will be more to come out of the woodwork between now and then.

So what is it that is drawing Ohio Republicans to this race like moths to a flame?

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It's simple: The Ohio politicians have bought into the hype coming out of the Republican National Committee in Washington.

The GOP desperately wants to win back control of the U.S. Senate and they could do that next year by winning against the three incumbent Democrats who will be running for re-election in states won by Donald Trump.

They are Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Jon Tester in Montana. All three are considered low-hanging fruit because of the popularity of Trump in those three states in 2020.

David Niven, political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, thinks the Republicans are deluding themselves.

"You look at this field of Republican candidates and what stands out about them is that nobody stands out," Niven said. "Some of them have proven themselves in minimally difficult campaigns. They've never had to stand on their own against a well-known opponent."

Last year, the field of GOP Senate candidates spent most of their time groveling for a Trump endorsement (with the exception of Dolan, who would not play along).

From the archives: Matt Dolan wants to change the subject in Ohio's GOP Senate primary

Trump strung them all along until nearly the very end of the campaign before endorsing Vance, which came with $15 million in campaign money from venture capitalist and Trump supporter Peter Thiel. It was enough to push Vance across the finish line with one of every three GOP primary votes.

This time, though, Trump has tipped his hand very early in the game.

Wednesday, on his Truth Social website, Trump had warm thoughts for Moreno, full of the Trump trademark of capitalized words and exclamation points.

"Word is that Bernie Moreno, the highly respected businessman from THE GREAT STATE OF OHIO, and father-in-law of fantastic young congressman Max Miller, is thinking of running for the Senate. He would not be easy to beat, especially against Brown, who is one of the worst in the Senate!"

Not that that would stop other GOP candidates from genuflecting in Trump's direction.

The question then becomes how much Trump's backing will be worth a year from now. It may be that there are enough Republican and independent voters who have grown weary of the Trump daily drama that they won't look to him for advice on the Senate race — even if he is the GOP candidate for president.

ANALYSIS: Which J.D. Vance will show up in the Senate?

The pool of Ohio Democrats running for statewide office has been very weak in recent years, Niven said.

"Ohio Republicans have forgotten what it is like to have a real race," Niven said. "They will have one in 2024 with Sherrod Brown."

Like Manchin and Tester, Brown is no mystery to voters in his state.

"Sherrod Brown knows who he is and the people of Ohio know who he is," Niven said.

Whoever the GOP nominee is, the Republican Party and its allies will spend millions in Ohio trying to change Ohio voters' perceptions of an incumbent senator who won that office in 2006 by defeating incumbent Republican Mike DeWine and going on to be re-elected in 2012 and 2018.

This is not to say the field of GOP candidates is taking on Mission Impossible.

But if they are depending on winning because Trump won Ohio in 2020, they might want to think of adding some other issues to their campaign tool kits.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.