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Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno is the GOP nominee for Ohio's Senate seat

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Senate race in Ohio this year could break state campaign spending records. Democrats and Republicans see the race as essential to controlling the Senate. Incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown is running for reelection and has held the office since 2007. But former President Donald Trump has carried the state twice, so Republicans see an opportunity. Last night, GOP voters chose the Senate candidate endorsed by Trump, Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno. Statehouse News Bureau chief Karen Kasler has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE MORENO: Hi. I'm Bernie Moreno, and let's face it, nobody likes buying pre-owned vehicles.

KAREN KASLER, BYLINE: That was Bernie Moreno then, back in 2016. This is him now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORENO: Then we need outsiders who back up their words with action.

KASLER: The Cleveland businessman, who's running as a political outsider, comfortably beat out two established GOP lawmakers on Tuesday night, winning his party's nomination for the U.S. Senate. A main focus of Moreno's campaign - he's out to stop liberals who promote - using his word - socialism. And for him, that crusade is personal. Moreno's family immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when he was a child. Here he is describing his experience in a video launching his Senate run.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORENO: I came from a country surrounded by the ideology of radicals like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

KASLER: Whether he's describing his family's story, like in that video or last night at a victory rally, Moreno always tells listeners his family immigrated legally, and he dreamt of becoming a U.S. citizen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORENO: Even though I thought it was kind of cool that I had a card that said I was an alien...

(LAUGHTER)

MORENO: ...I thought maybe I wanted to be a citizen. That would be better.

KASLER: Moreno echoes former President Donald Trump's views on immigration and border security, speaking here in an interview with Ohio public media last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORENO: We have no choice but to deport all illegal immigrants out of this country because we're sending a mixed message to the world.

KASLER: Moreno had opposed Trump in 2016, but that changed. And Moreno's daughter is married to Max Miller, a former Trump aide who's now an Ohio congressman seeking a second term. While Moreno and his two opponents positioned themselves as strong Trump supporters, Moreno won the coveted endorsement.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Donald Trump needs Bernie Moreno. Ohio doesn't.

KASLER: In the final week of the primary campaign, a super PAC aligned with the U.S. Senate Democrats bought $2.7 million in ads saying Moreno is too conservative for Ohio. His rivals accused Democrats of meddling in the primary because they viewed Moreno as the weakest candidate in the field when matched up against Brown, but the ads may have helped Moreno.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORENO: I wear with honor my endorsement of president - from President Trump. I wear that with a...

(CHEERING)

MORENO: ...Badge of honor.

KASLER: Following Moreno's primary win, Democrats doubled-down on attacking him for his closeness to Trump, including Senator Sherrod Brown speaking this morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

SHERROD BROWN: My opponent has always looked out for himself. He's even said he's not going to work with people whom he disagrees with in Washington, which means he's not fighting for Ohio. He's not representing Ohio.

KASLER: Moreno spent $4.5 million of his own money on this campaign, but many credit the win to Trump's support. Last weekend, he held a rally with Moreno in Dayton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Bernie is a political outsider who has spent his entire life building up Ohio communities. He's highly respected all over the country, and he's going to be a warrior in Washington.

KASLER: Just days after that speech, Moreno ran away with his party's nomination, leading his closest opponent, GOP establishment candidate State Senator Matt Dolan, by about 17 percentage points. Democrats are pouring in money to back Brown. He's served in the Senate since 2007. This race will test whether a Trump-backed candidate can take out a long-standing incumbent who's had bipartisan appeal.

For NPR News, I'm Karen Kasler in Columbus, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Karen Kasler (Statehouse News Bureau)
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