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As Trump visits Ohio, attacks in GOP Senate race get increasingly personal

In the final days before Ohio Republicans cast their votes to select a Senate candidate to challenge incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), political jabs in the GOP race have gotten increasingly personal.

Former president Donald Trump, who endorsed Bernie Moreno in the race, held a rally in Ohio on Saturday afternoon in a final-days effort to boost his ally. It comes days after Moreno — who has taken strongly anti-LGBTQ+ positions as a candidate — was the subject of a story by the Associated Press reporting that an account on Adult Friend Finder, a website for casual sexual encounters, was created with Moreno’s work email address. The account, which posted on the site in 2008, sought “men for 1-on-1 sex.”

The Washington Post has not independently verified the AP report. The candidate’s lawyer provided the AP with a statement from a former Moreno intern, who said he created the account as “part of a juvenile prank.”

At Saturday’s rally in Vandalia, Ohio, Trump defended Moreno against attacks that he attributed to Democrats.

“Bernie is a fantastic guy. He’s getting some very tough Democrat fake treatment right now and we’re not going to stand for it because I know this man,” Trump said. “We all know this man. He’s a hero, he’s a winner and we’re not going to let these people — these people are sick.”

In addition to the attacks among Republicans, a prominent Democratic super PAC has also devoted $2.7 million to ads to criticizing Moreno as being too conservative and aligned with Trump. Those critiques may actually draw Republican primary voters to Moreno. And by running the ad ahead of the state’s GOP primary race, the PAC is possibly deploying a strategy that’s been used by Democrats in recent years — bolstering a Republican who they see as the easiest candidate to beat in the general election.

While Ohio was long considered a swing state, it has moved dramatically to the right in recent years, with Trump easily winning the state in 2016 and 2020. Brown, who is seeking a fourth term, is the Buckeye State’s only remaining statewide elected Democrat.

Moreno faces Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Ohio state Sen. Matt Dolan in the primary. Polls show an increasingly tight race between the candidates, and in the final weeks before Tuesday’s GOP primary, political ads from outside groups have gotten more and more personal.

The pro-Moreno Buckeye Values PAC, which hosted Trump’s rally Saturday, released an ad last month asking Ohioans whether they can trust LaRose, asserting that he’s been called “a champion for trans equality.” The ad superimposes LaRose in front of a rainbow flag while wearing pro-Planned Parenthood and “Trans Equality Now” pins. The group has also reportedly sent campaign mail in Ohio that asks “What Team Does Frank LaRose Play For?” and “Is he with us … Or is he with they/them?”

Ben Kindel, a spokesman for the LaRose campaign, said in a statement, “Desperate campaigns result to desperate measures. Frank is the only battle-tested conservative in the race who can beat Sherrod Brown in November.”

The pro-Dolan Buckeye Leadership Fund, meanwhile, launched statewide television and radio ads citing the AP’s report, calling Moreno “creepy” and “damaged goods.”

“The ad cites a well-sourced AP story and speaks for itself,” Buckeye Leadership Fund spokesman Chris Pack said. “If anyone has explaining to do, it’s closet liberal Bernie Moreno. Bernie has lied so much and has so many skeletons in his closet that he seems incapable of keeping it all straight.” The ads are part of a $7.4 million ad buy.

Moreno’s wife, Bridget, criticized Dolan’s allies for spreading details of the AP report, saying in a statement that “for (Dolan) to stoop this low, simply because he’s losing this race is disgusting, disgraceful and he should be embarrassed.” Bridget Moreno called on Dolan to disavow the ad from “his family-funded super PAC.”

His family donated $2 million to the PAC in December.

Dolan has the backing of two major Ohio Republicans — Gov. Mike DeWine and former senator Rob Portman — while Moreno is broadly seen as the most pro-Trump candidate in the race.

Moreno, an entrepreneur, has been endorsed by several Trump allies, including South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R), Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio). But LaRose wrote on X ahead of the Trump rally that he welcomes Trump to the state.

“President Trump’s visit is a reminder of the strength of America under his presidency and the disaster we face under President Biden. I welcome President Trump to Ohio and look forward to working with him to fix our nation as Ohio’s next Senator,” LaRose said in the post.

Marisa Iati in Vandalia, Ohio, contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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