There is little doubt that the Ohio Senate race will be one of the hottest campaigns in the 2024 election cycle and this week has yielded its first concrete action.
The first major candidate came forward to challenge three-term incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown, who appears to be one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents. On Tuesday, veteran Ohio state legislator Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) announced his intention to challenge Sen. Brown in next year’s election. An attorney, minority owner of the Cleveland Guardians professional baseball club, two-term state Senator, and three-term former state Representative, Mr. Dolan was also a 2022 open seat US Senate candidate.
In the previous election, he placed third in a field of seven Senate Republican primary candidates in finishing less than a percentage point behind the runner-up, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel. The winner, author J.D. Vance, went onto score a 53-47% win over US Rep. Tim Ryan (D) in the general election despite being badly outspent, $57.3 to $14.8 million.
Outside organization spending was about even, as Mr. Ryan benefited from $39 million in non-candidate expenditures while Mr. Vance had an almost identical $38 million being spent on his behalf according to the Open Secrets.org independent expenditure analysis.
Though Sen. Dolan began as a second-tier candidate, he finished strong in the 2022 statewide primary, which is why he should be taken seriously in this election cycle. His effort was overwhelmingly self-funded with $10.5 million of his $11.3 million in receipts coming either from self-contributions or loans to the campaign committee. The Dolan campaign strategists used their funds wisely to create strong closing momentum to propel him into the first-tier. The Senator now hopes to build upon that late momentum to develop a 2024 campaign with a clear path to victory.
Since he was last on the ballot in the 2018 election cycle, Sen. Brown has raised over $6.1 million and begins this campaign with $2.95 million in his campaign account. His favorability numbers are relatively good considering he is from a state that the FiveThirtyEight data organization rates as R+12. The Senator’s personal favorability index according to 538’s 2022 recap is +8.
It is clear that Sen. Dolan will face a contested primary. Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who hails from the more conservative wing of the Ohio Republican Party, is an all-but-announced Senate candidate. Another potential Senate contender is US Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Troy) who is testing the waters for a potential run.
Of the large field we saw in 2022, aside from Mr. Dolan, only former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken has been mentioned as a possible candidate in the next race but her disappointing performance likely precludes another serious attempt.
While Sen. Brown has a long history of winning elections in the state, the electorate has turned heavily toward the Republicans. Today, he is the only Democratic statewide officeholder among eight positions. Of the six races on the statewide ballot in 2022, Republicans won all with a cumulative mean average of 58.6%. In the last two presidential races, former President Trump carried Ohio both times, with a 52-44% margin in 2016, and a similar 53-45% spread against President Joe Biden in 2020.
Therefore, though Sen. Brown will likely have the financial edge in the general election, he will have an uphill battle with an electorate more prone to vote Republican especially in a presidential year.
Sherrod Brown was first elected to public office in 1974 when he won a seat in the state House of Representatives. Eight years later, he was elected Ohio’s Secretary of State. In 1992, Mr. Brown won the first of his seven congressional elections in the Akron anchored 13th CD before winning the US Senate seat in 2006. In the Senate, he is the chairman of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.
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