CLEVELAND — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is alerting Republican donors that he plans to participate “soon” in their state’s already contentious Senate primary, according to two voicemails shared with NBC News.
“I am preparing to hopefully announce my candidacy for this office soon,” LaRose said of the Senate race in a message he left for a potential supporter last week.
“I am actively working and look forward to announcing my candidacy for the United States Senate soon,” he said in a voicemail left for another donor the same day.
If he runs, LaRose would be entering a Republican field that already includes two wealthy candidates: State Sen. Matt Dolan, whose family owns Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians franchise, and Bernie Moreno, a businessman. from the Cleveland area that has received encouragement, though not outright endorsement, from former President Donald Trump.
The winner of the Republican primary will face Sen. Sherrod Brown, a three-term Democrat, in what is expected to be one of the costliest Senate battles of 2024.
In a phone interview Tuesday, LaRose stressed that he has not made a final decision.
“This is something that I have been looking at and carefully studying and even starting to take steps to see if it is possible. Because if you’re going to put effort into something, a big task like this, then you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your ducks lined up and you’re ready to put in a good effort,” LaRose said.
“There are a lot of people who are reaching out to me,” he added. “They are offering support as grassroots supporters, and there are people calling and saying they would like to help financially when the time is right for that.”
LaRose is not the only prominent Ohio Republican moving toward a Senate run. Rep. Warren Davidson, who was invited to run by the Club for Growth, a conservative spending group, has shown strong interest in recent weeks, according to five Republican operatives closely watching the race. Davidson and his aides have not responded to multiple questions about his intentions, but like Dolan, Moreno and LaRose, the congressman has met with the Republican National Senatorial Committee, said a source familiar with the conversation. The NRSC does not plan to pick a favorite in the primary, the source added.
The contest has echoes of the 2022 Ohio Senate race, in which the packed Republican field descended into rudeness, name calling and endless debates over who was most loyal to Trump.
Dolan, the only candidate not to seek Trump’s endorsement in last year’s Republican primary, finished third after pouring more than $10 million of his own money into the campaign. Moreno also ran, but abandonment after meeting with Trump, seeing no path to the nomination and fearing that the abundance of candidates would allow Dolan to win a narrow plurality. In an interview in the Ohio Conservative “Saving Freedom” podcast Last month, Moreno expressed renewed fears about a Dolan victory in next year’s primary, particularly if LaRose and Davidson run.
«If one or two people jump into this race, and [Dolan] spend enough family money, he could win with 32% of the vote,” said Moreno, who has indicated that he doesn’t plan to self-finance his campaign as robustly as he did during his brief 2022 candidacy. «Think about that scary situation.»
more already backed up Trump’s offer. And while Dolan has expressed hope for a competitive presidential primary, he promised in a February letter to Republican county chairmen that he would support «our party’s presidential nominee with everything I have.»
Moreno has also targeted LaRose, suggestion that the job of secretary of state is too important for his potential rival to leave so soon after winning a second term.
Brown and his allies are gleefully watching the emerging clashes.
“Republicans in this primary are more focused on attacking each other than fighting for Ohioans,” said Reeves Oyster, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party. «As this primary heats up and gets nastier by the day, it’s clear that whoever emerges next year will be bruised, battered and out of touch with the values of Ohioans.»
While Davidson’s moves have been the subject of rumors in Ohio, LaRose’s efforts have been more overt. The voicemails from last week are in addition to other messages and emails donors have received from LaRose or his political team in recent weeks and then forwarded them to others, including NBC News. LaRose, who lacks the personal finances of Dolan and Moreno, has also said that he has been raising money for a super PAC.
The super PAC LaRose has referred to, the Leadership for Ohio Fund, is registered as a 527 political organization with the IRS, but as of Tuesday afternoon had yet to file with the Federal Election Commission. LaRose has attended at least one of the group’s events, a welcome last month at the Washington home of Barry Jackson, who served as chief of staff under former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Other veterans of Boehner’s political operation were included as members of the host committee.
“This group has a mission that aligns very closely with mine,” LaRose said of the super PAC, which focuses on voter turnout issues of electoral integrity. «I feel very comfortable that raising money in this group is done in a completely legal and transparent way.»
LaRose has also been openly discussing his possibilities while speaking with activists and donors. In interviews and phone calls, he has dismissed Dolan and Moreno as «good guys» who lack statewide name recognition to defeat Brown in a general election. He has also downplayed Trump’s kind words about Moreno and has downplayed the former president’s influence on the primaries as well.
“There is probably 20% of the party that will vote for whom he [Trump] supports it,” LaRose said recently during a closed-door meeting with Ohio Republicans, according to audio. first reported by Politico and later obtained by NBC News. “There is another 20% that cares about who they support, but that will not be the one to make the decisions. And then there’s probably another 60% of the party that doesn’t care how you get behind it.»
LaRose added that he believes he can win Trump’s endorsement, as he did in his re-election bid for secretary of state. But that endorsement came on the same day as LaRose’s endorsement of Trump-backed JD Vance in last year’s brutal Senate primary, fueling speculation about compromise politics. LaRose, who oversees Ohio elections, has also said he doesn’t believe Trump stole the 2020 election, but in recent months he has reached out to election-denying Republicans. At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, he was included among the hosts of a dinner hosted by Kari Lake, the staunch Trump ally who has not accepted her defeat in last year’s Arizona gubernatorial race.
Trump’s endorsement «is not the entirety of someone’s candidacy,» LaRose told NBC News on Tuesday. «You can’t base his entire candidacy on the endorsement of one man, no matter how influential he may be.»