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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: Trump looks to go 2-for-2 in choosing Ohio's next U.S. senator

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.

It seems Donald Trump won't be satisfied until he has both of Ohio's U.S. senators in his pocket.

Last week, the former president took a break from trying to delay his criminal trials to endorse Bernie Moreno, a very wealthy luxury car dealer from Cleveland, for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Ohio's March 19 primary election.

Last year, Trump did the same, plucking J.D. Vance out of a crowded field of Senate candidates for the seat of Rob Portman, who retired from Congress.

Trump's endorsement — and $3 million from Trump's friend, billionaire Peter Thiel — pulled Vance across the finish line.

Vance, as you know, won the general election and has since been one of Trump's most loyal and vociferous sycophants.

ANALYSIS: A look back at J.D. Vance's first year in office

One thing Vance and Moreno have in common — they both had some very uncomplimentary things to say about Trump, before they became candidates.

Both, once they started running for the Senate in a state won by Trump twice, had some sort of Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion to the MAGA faith.

Well, it happens.

Moreno's two principal opponents for the nomination — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and State Sen. Matt Dolan — were passed over by Trump.

For LaRose, who has spent the past year trying to proclaim his Trump bona fides in a quest for an endorsement, it was a huge blow.

Dolan, who is not hostile to Trump but who has never sought his approval, didn't seem to care one way or the other.

From the archives: Does Matt Dolan, a Republican who doesn't court Trump, have a chance?

Trump, who tends to wear out the caps lock on his keyboard, announced his preference for Moreno on Truth Social, the social media platform Trump created:

"Bernie is Strong on the Border, Crime, Cutting Taxes, Election Integrity, the Military / Vets, and will always protect our under siege 2nd Amendment. Bernie Moreno will be an outstanding United States Senator, and has my Complete and Total Endorsement—He will never let you down!" Trump wrote.

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
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.

Whoever wins the GOP primary on March 19 will go on to face incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown in what will likely be one of the most expensive races in the nation, outside of the presidential election.

The Democrats' shaky hold on the Senate is at stake. And Brown is one of only two incumbent Democrats running for re-election in a state won by Trump in 2020.

It's as big as it gets in Ohio politics.

Mark R. Weaver, a longtime Republican political strategist in Ohio, believes Brown is more vulnerable this year than at any time since the Democrat won the seat by defeating then-senator Mike DeWine in 2006.

"Sherrod Brown is in the toughest fight of his life," Weaver said. "And running with Joe Biden at the top of the ticket is going to do nothing but hurt him."

ANALYSIS: Can an anti-abortion rights Republican win a Senate race in Ohio?

Weaver said the Trump endorsement is valuable to Moreno, but it may not decide the primary.

"It helps Moreno, in many of the same ways it helped Vance," Weaver said. "It is a factor, for sure, but not the factor."

The Trump endorsement, Weaver said, is great for Moreno in the primary, but perhaps not so great in a general election.

"This is the classic problem in politics," Weaver said. "Candidates of both parties run to the extremes of their party in the primary. And then they get punished in the general election."

This GOP primary is unusual in that two of the three major candidates — Dolan and Moreno — are very wealthy men and can go a long way toward self-funding their campaigns.

Dolan has sunk $4 million of his own money into his campaign so far; Moreno has invested $3 million.

LaRose is not in that league financially; he has loaned his campaign $250,000. But he has another source of financial support.

RELATED: Campaign finance filings show LaRose last in list of Ohio's 2024 candidates for U.S. Senate

Richard Uihlein, a Chicago-area billionaire, has sunk $3 million this month into Leadership for Ohio PAC, a soft money group promoting LaRose's candidacy.

Uihlein, who made his fortune in the office supply business, spent millions on the August special election on Issue 1, a constitutional amendment which would have required a 60% vote for future amendments to the constitution.

Issue 1 was aimed at stopping the abortion rights amendment, approved by Ohio voters in November. It was Frank LaRose's pet project and it failed miserably.

They can self-fund and rely on The Office Supply King all they like. None of them are even close to matching the $11.2 million campaign fund Brown had in the bank in October.

In the fall campaign, hundreds of millions of dollars in independent expenditures will pour into Ohio from both the Democratic and Republican sides. Ohio will be ground zero in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

Trump's endorsement will likely jump-start Moreno's fundraising so he won't have to put so much of his own skin in the game.

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

Maybe, too, it will get him through the primary and on to a battle with Brown.

And the notoriously ticket-splitting voters of Ohio will have to decide whether or not Trump should have two U.S. senators from their state.

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