Republican Matt Dolan lands former US Sen. Rob Portman's endorsement in Ohio's Senate primary

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Matt Dolan, Ohio Senate Republican from the 24th District, listens to colleagues speak at the Ohio State House Senate Chambers in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Joe Maiorana)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Republican Matt Dolan has landed the endorsement of former U.S. Sen. Rob Portman in the fractious three-way primary to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown this fall, a potentially important boost in the final run-up to the contest.

In a letter addressed to fellow Ohioans, the Cincinnati Republican and his wife, Jane, said they decided that Dolan's “conservative record of accomplishment and his commitment to continue to focus on achieving results in the U.S. Senate set him apart” from his rivals, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Trump-endorsed Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno.

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The Portmans said LaRose and Moreno were also “good people, who care deeply about our state,” but Dolan, a Cleveland-area state senator, was their choice.

“America faces tremendous challenges,” they wrote, “and it is more important than ever that we elect leaders who embody conservative values and principles and have a track record of getting things done.”

All three Senate contenders had sought Portman's backing. He's a moderate with a strong reputation in Republican circles, including for his skill at bipartisan dealmaking. He helped negotiate the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed by Democratic President Joe Biden in 2021.

A former federal budget director and U.S. trade representative to Republican President George W. Bush, Portman served in the Senate from 2011 to 2023. He announced his retirement in 2021, lamenting the partisanship and dysfunction in Washington. Portman launched a center focused on civility at the University of Cincinnati last year.

Dolan had hopes of securing Portman's endorsement when he first ran for Senate in 2022, after fashioning himself a moderate pragmatist in Portman's mold. But that was not to be. Portman instead endorsed Jane Timken, a former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, who started strong but ultimately finished fifth in the crowded field — with less than 6% of the vote. Former President Donald Trump's endorsement propelled author and venture capitalist JD Vance to victory in that contest.

Dolan competes in a smaller field this year, where he’s jockeying with LaRose for the votes necessary to outperform the Moreno campaign's support among Ohio's strong Trump coalition.

Portman’s strong name recognition in southwest Ohio could be beneficial to Dolan as the state's March 19 primary nears.

Dolan is best known in Cleveland, where his family owns baseball's Cleveland Guardians, but that is also Moreno's stronghold. LaRose hails originally from Akron but has lived in the Columbus area since taking statewide office. Ohioans have twice elected him statewide, and he enjoys the strongest name recognition in the race by virtue of his high-profile job as the state's elections chief.

Dolan praised Portman for his public service in a statement, saying he “showed that a good public servant not only delivers results, but also safeguards the inheritance of future generations.”

While LaRose reserved comment on Portman's decision, Moreno pushed back.

“Bernie is proud to be endorsed by actual conservatives in this primary, including President Trump, JD Vance, Jim Jordan, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Dave Yost, Vivek Ramaswamy and countless others,” campaign spokeswoman Reagan McCarthy said in a statement. “There is a clear contrast in this primary: America-First versus America-Last.”

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