Ohio Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose joins U.S. Senate race
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced his U.S. Senate bid Monday in a video posted to Twitter. He followed his announcement with a Monday morning live-streamed interview with the anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life.
The Republican elections chief enters a field with two candidates who ran in last year’s Republican U.S. Senate primary. The 2024 primary is still a long way off, but LaRose’s opponents have a three-month head start, a long list of endorsements and personal fortunes they’ve readily tapped in the past. Whichever candidate emerges will take on Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who last won in 2018.
Over the next four months, LaRose will have to balance Senate fundraising and campaigning with running two elections. One of those contests — an Aug. 8 election on Issue 1 that seeks to make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution — is only on the calendar at Republicans’ insistence. LaRose is one of the proposal’s chief advocates and after initially speaking against August elections when lawmakers eliminated them last year, LaRose supported bringing back this August election to consider Issue 1.
LaRose announced his bid by lacing up his running shoes and running. In a grey shirt where Ohio’s silhouette helps spell out “home,” LaRose jogs around Upper Arlington. He passes an old tire, “lately, it feels like our country is slipping away from us,” a gas station, “rising prices are hurting families,” and splashes through a puddle in a school parking lot “parents are being cut out of their children’s education.”
The ad closes with LaRose’s youngest chiming in, “see mommy, I told you daddy was running.”
As he has in past campaigns, LaRose emphasizes a “happy warrior” persona. But despite earlier appeals to bipartisanship, his rhetoric has grown sharper as his party has lurched to the right. Running for reelection in 2022, he gave oxygen to claims of voter fraud. In his latest race he’s already nodding to “parental rights” and criticizing what he calls the “open border.”
But the issue to which LaRose will likely be most closely tied is the one on the ballot in August. In 2018, LaRose declined to endorse Donald Trump because it would be inappropriate “as the person running fair elections.”
Far from sitting on the sidelines for Issue 1, LaRose has been a driving force in the push to amend Ohio’s constitution so that future amendments are harder to pass.
Groups opposing abortion have embraced the higher, 60% threshold as a way to obstruct a reproductive rights proposal planned for November. LaRose courted those groups from the outset, and more recently he’s spent time campaigning with them for Issue 1. Cincinnati attorney David Langdon set up a group running ads for Issue 1 and against the abortion rights proposal. He’s also behind a political non-profit aligned with LaRose.
Just a few hours after he announced his run, LaRose sat down for an interview to Ohio Right to Life.
“There’s only one battle-tested candidate in this race that has a history of winning statewide elections with, really, record breaking numbers,” LaRose said, “who knows how to not only unite the base of our party but also win a wide swath of Ohio voters’ support as well.”
Despite explicit appeals for Ohioans to vote yes on Issue 1, LaRose argued he doesn’t do his job “as a Republican or a Democrat, I do it with a referee’s jersey on.”
In June, LaRose rejected dozens of submissions of old absentee ballot forms printed in the Cleveland Jewish News, but when Issue 1 supporters sent out an old form last week, within hours he issued guidance saying they’re OK.
During the appearance, LaRose also made the dubious assertion that Issue 1 will “strengthen” majority rule.
“Issue 1 doesn’t do any harm to the concept of one person, one vote,” LaRose said, “In fact, it strengthens it. It doesn’t harm democracy or majority rule, in fact, it strengthens it.”
To be clear, under Issue 1, future constitutional amendments that gain majority support but fall short of 60% would not be adopted, meaning that voters against any amendment would enjoy more voting power than those who support it.
State of the race
In an apparent dig at his Republican opponent Matt Dolan, LaRose touted his experience at the southern border. Dolan, a state senator from Chagrin Falls, launched his campaign with an announcement filmed at the border.
“A lot of people, they go do their photo-op down there and pose in front of the border wall or whatever,” LaRose said, “I actually served on the US Mexican border as part of the Counter Narcotics Task Force.”
Dolan’s camp didn’t acknowledge LaRose’s entry to the race. Westlake entrepreneur Bernie Moreno, on the other hand, took a different tack.
“Like a true career politician, Frank LaRose has spent the last 13 years of his life constantly running for higher office,” Moreno spokesman Conor McGuinness said. “With the all-important Issue 1 vote coming up in August, he should instead focus on the job he has. Unfortunately, LaRose has taken his eye off the ball in his attempt to climb the political ladder.”
Moreno has already gotten the endorsement of Ohio Republican U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, not to mention a handful of politicos who endorsed LaRose’s 2022 reelection bid.
Still, Langdon’s pro-LaRose Leadership for Ohio Fund commissioned a poll in which LaRose had a double-digit lead over Dolan and Moreno. However, the polling memo doesn’t include its margin of error, and LaRose’s 24% share of GOP primary voters pales in comparison to undecideds at 42%. The same survey noted about half of GOP voters said Donald’s Trump endorsement “would have at least some influence on their vote.”
The poll also showed Sherrod Brown holding a narrow general election lead.
An independent poll conducted by East Carolina University shows Brown edging out all three GOP contenders head-to-head, although each contest is within the margin of error. In the Republican primary field, ECU found the majority, 58%, remain undecided. LaRose led the rest of the field at 17%.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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