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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: Why did J.D. Vance endorse Bernie Moreno so early?

j.d. vance wears a gray suit, white shirt and blue tie as he gestures while speaking during a senate committee hearing
Andrew Harnik
Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, speaks as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

It seems a bit early for Ohio's junior senator, J.D. Vance, to be jumping into the endorsement game in the 2024 GOP Senate primary.

Yet, there he was on Monday, handing an endorsement to Bernie Moreno, the wealthy Cleveland area car dealer, who (for a while) was one of Vance's opponents in the 2022 primary.

Why bother? The field in this race is not even set yet. The 2024 Ohio primary is still 10 months away.

And, in reality, even the most ardent Republican voters in Ohio aren't paying much attention to the question of who will face incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown in November 2024.

They're rolling over in bed, tucking themselves in and telling the candidates wake me up when it really matters.

Vance, elected last fall, says he wants his party to avoid the nasty, expensive and sometimes out-of-control GOP Senate primary he and five other candidates waged last spring.

The bestselling author and venture capitalist pulled out a win in that ugly primary with a last-minute endorsement from Donald Trump (and $15 million from Trump pal Peter Thiel). And the rest is history.

ANALYSIS: Why Trump endorsed J.D. Vance, who once called him an 'idiot' (and worse)

Well, maybe Vance really does want to be the peacemaker in the 2024 GOP primary.

But it seems this is more about what Moreno wants and less about what Vance wants.

What Moreno wants is to clear the field.

Bernie Moreno, in a red shirt, waves to a crowd
Joe Maiorana
Bernie Moreno is acknowledged at a rally with former President Donald Trump at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, on April 23, 2022, in Delaware, Ohio.

Right now, he and State Sen. Matt Dolan of suburban Cleveland are the only two announced candidates for the nomination.

Dolan, too, was a candidate in last year's GOP Senate primary. He was coming on strong at the end of the campaign. But the clock ran out on him. In the 2022 primary, he was the only candidate to not join in the groveling for Trump's endorsement. And he won't do it in the 2024 race either.

Moreno, of course, will go to Trump on bended knee.

Last year, in the middle of the campaign, Moreno met with Trump, who talked him into getting out of the race.

This time around, Trump is saying nice things about Moreno, if only in a Truth Social post Trump issued right before Moreno announced his candidacy.

As always with Trump, it was full of CAPITAL LETTERS 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!"

Some took that as a Trump endorsement. Not sure Trump did. He usually keeps his powder dry until he thinks he knows who is going to win.

Complicating Moreno's life right now is the fact that, as of today, we don't even know who is going to run, much less win.

There are at lest two more potential GOP candidates mulling it over.

One is Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is busy explaining away why he was in favor of doing away with August primaries six months ago but is suddenly in favor of a special August primary aimed at making it harder for groups opposed by the GOP to put constitutional amendments on the ballot and get them passed.

COMMENTARY: Ohioans, you have a voice — for now. Be sure to use it

The other poses a greater threat to Moreno and his ambitions.

Warren Davidson.

Warren Davidson, the congressman from Troy whose district extends into western Hamilton County, is also seriously considering getting in the race.

Davidson is being urged by the ultra-conservative and deep-pocketed Club for Growth, which has been feuding with Trump since last year's Ohio GOP primary.

The Club for Growth could not only use its vast network to help Davidson raise millions for his campaign, it could also spend its own millions clobbering Moreno and anyone else who would stand in the way of Davidson getting the nomination.

David Niven, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, said Moreno is a serious candidate, although he has very low name recognition, even among Ohio Republicans.

"But it's interesting how far down the list any accomplishments rank for these candidates, including Moreno," Niven said.

The only issue that Moreno has raised is one that had a lot of people, Republican and Democratic, scratching their heads. It came in his campaign launch in Milford last month.

Moreno told his supporters that he thought the descendants of white soldiers in the Civil War who fought and often died to free Black Americans should be paid reparations.

That idea was a complete dud.

So too is the idea that Davidson, an ex-Army Ranger, is going to be deterred by a Vance endorsement. If the man decides he wants to run, he will.

COMMENTARY: The specter of Trump hangs heavy over Ohio GOP Senate primary

Then there is the question of just how much a Vance endorsement is worth.

"I have trouble believing that (Vance) has that much weight," Niven said. "After all, last year, two-thirds of the Republican primary voters didn't vote for him."

So what do Moreno and Vance get out of this?

For Moreno, an early endorsement of dubious value if it is meant to clear the field.

For Vance, he's done his duty to Trump, who he supported then, supports now, and seemingly will continue to support even if Trump someday is dragged off to prison in leg irons.

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