CLEVELAND — The race to face Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, could soon be crowded, with at least three prominent Republicans weighing whether to enter a primary field that Matt Dolan, a wealthy state legislator, has held to himself for more than two months.

Bernie Moreno, a Cleveland-area businessman who ran briefly for the Senate in 2022, is edging closer to another campaign. He has been hired for several Republican functions in the coming weeks, including one that promotes it as a «Potential Candidate for United States Senate».

«Don’t you want to replace a career politician with a career politician?» Emily Moreno Miller, Moreno’s daughter, a Republican operative with ties to former President Donald Trump’s political team, tweeted this week as we share information about the event. «Being in Batavia, OH on March 27.»

The Ohio race is expected to be one of the nastiest and most expensive in the country next year as both parties battle for control of the Senate. Brown, the only Democrat in Ohio to have had consistent success in state elections, is seen as one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents, along with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, W.Va., and Jon Tester, Mont.

Miller’s tweet was directed at Brown, a three-term senator who has held elected office for most of the past 50 years, and at Dolan, as well as another possible Republican candidate, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Dolan, a state senator whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball franchise, has served in the Legislature for years. LaRose, an Army veteran, was a state senator before winning the first of his two terms as secretary of state.

Former Senate candidate Bernie Moreno in Delaware, Ohio, in 2022.File Joe Maiorana / AP

«Workers in Ohio know that no one works harder for them than Sherrod Brown,» Brown’s campaign manager Rachel Petri told NBC News. «That record of fighting for the dignity of work will be in stark contrast to anyone the Republicans nominate.»

Moreno, a former car dealer, finished his last run for the Senate months before the primary, after meeting with Trump and determining that the field was too crowded for him to win. Before the 2016 election, Moreno had been a skeptic of Trump, calling him a «maniac» in private correspondence with a Republican fundraiser that NBC News obtained two years ago. But the Moreno family has grown closer to Trump since then and has forged other alliances that could prove useful in a primary.

His daughter, who worked on the former president’s 2020 re-election campaign, is married to Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, a former Trump adviser. they held their wedding last year at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Course in New Jersey. And after dropping out last year, Moreno reached out to the now-senator. JD Vance, the author of «Hillbilly Elegy» who ultimately won Trump’s endorsement and won the primary. Moreno advised the campaign and was called upon to play Tim Ryan, Vance’s Democratic opponent, in the lead-up to the debate, a source familiar with the arrangement said he was not authorized to speak officially.

Moreno endorsed Trump for president in 2024 in a guest column last month for The Columbus Dispatch. He also recently attended the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, DC Moreno did not address the crowd, but walked the halls, mingling with pro-Trump activists and conservative media personal allusions.

In addition to this month’s event in Batavia, near Cincinnati, Moreno is scheduled to meet Republicans at a pizzeria before a dinner party in Circleville, south of Columbus. Moreno is also scheduled to join LaRose in May at a Conservative Club of Northeast Ohio dinner.

“I’ve noticed there’s a very popular grassroots movement for him and they’re very excited about him,” Meredith Freedhoff, who chairs the Franklin County Republican Party in Columbus, said of Moreno.

Freedhoff, whose organization is expected to back the race, added that Moreno is the only Senate candidate or possible candidate he has heard from.

«Bernie has contacted me a couple of times with events he’s doing,» he said. “And I have attended some of them. He hasn’t announced his candidacy, but obviously I’d be very happy for the sake of his grassroots if he did. He is a good man.

LaRose’s preparations for a possible campaign have also accelerated in recent weeks. He visited CPAC, where he participated in a panel discussion titled «We Were Legally Stolen» with other Republicans. abraham hamadeh and Lee Zeldin, election deniers who lost their 2022 bids for Arizona attorney general and New York governor, respectively. he was also list among the hosts at the table for a dinner headlined by Kari Lake, the Republican who has not conceded her defeat in the Arizona gubernatorial race last year.

LaRose has said he doesn’t believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, but he nonetheless earned a re-election endorsement from him last year. She used his CPAC appearance to defend Ohio, which Trump won by 8 points, as a state that runs elections fairly and responsibly.

“We ran our elections in Ohio so well, with such transparency and honesty that even the loser knows they lost,” LaRose said in an interview with NBC News on CPAC.

LaRose hasn’t set a timetable for a decision, but compared to Dolan and Moreno, he doesn’t have a huge store of personal wealth to draw from if he enters the race.

“What I am exploring right now is: Can I be my party’s strongest candidate for this office? I’ve seen some polling numbers that show me I can,” LaRose said.

Another potential Republican entrant, Rep. Warren Davidson, got a boost this month at a private donor retreat for Club for Growth, a conservative organization that has been at odds with Trump in recent months. David McIntosh, president of the organization, called Davidson there to seek the Senate nomination and pledged the group’s support, according to two sources.

Davidson and a political adviser to him did not respond to messages this week seeking comment.

Club for Growth resources could help Davidson compete in a field with more well-known and self-funded candidates. Last year, the group endorsed former state treasurer Josh Mandel, who finished second to Vance in the primary. Dolan finished a close third and, like last time, is running as a traditional conservative gently urging the party to outdo Trump.

“The dynamics of the Republican primary are getting more complicated, and any Republican candidate who emerges from their intraparty fight in Ohio will find themselves damaged and out of step with the voters who will decide the general election,” said Nora Keefe, spokeswoman of the Democratic Party. Senate Campaign Committee.

Unlike Moreno, Dolan has called for a strong, competitive presidential primary in 2024. Dolan has also had a several-month head start on staffing, picking up agents and fundraisers who were active in last year’s primaries, including those who were with other candidates.

“In the short time that Matt Dolan has been a candidate,” said Chris Maloney, his top strategist, “he has moved quickly to assemble a top-tier campaign team, recruit grassroots volunteers and garner more than 100 notable endorsements from Republican leaders. throughout Ohio. .”