Cleveland Browns owners take sides in Ohio Senate GOP primary

Senate hopeful Matt Dolan, the scion of the family that owns the Cleveland Guardians, is scoring some help from another Ohio professional sports dynasty.

Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the owners of the Cleveland Browns, announced this week they are supporting Dolan and will serve as statewide finance chairs for his campaign — a development that could give him an edge in a contentious, three-way primary for a crucial Democratic-held Senate seat.

The Haslams’ endorsement is a win for Dolan because they are well-connected in Ohio and sent a letter around to other high-profile Republican donors urging them to join Dolan’s team.

Dolan, a state senator, is the most moderate of the three major candidates in the GOP primary to face Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of the most endangered incumbents in 2024. His top competitors are business executive Bernie Moreno and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

In the letter, obtained by POLITICO, the Haslams noted that the race “includes three candidates we have come to know well” but that only Dolan had “the skill set and track record to get America back on the right track.”

They appeared to suggest that Dolan’s opponents had veered too far to the right and would not be able to topple Brown, a veteran incumbent who frequently outperforms his party in a state that has taken a sharp turn to the right.

“Instead of catering to the extreme, Matt Dolan’s campaign has been focused on strengthening Ohio and renewing American strength. Where others have sacrificed their electability by catering to conspiracies, Matt has maintained his focus on solutions,” the Haslams wrote.

The other two candidates are clearly vying for a MAGA base. Moreno is running as a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump and is courting his endorsement. He is backed by Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), whom Trump helped propel to victory in 2022, and his daughter is married to Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio), a former Trump aide.

LaRose had previously been critical of Trump but he has since reversed course. He endorsed the former president shortly after entering the Senate race and dined with him and other Ohio election officials in New Jersey.

Dolan, however, has been a consistent Trump critic. He ran in the 2022 primary for retiring Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) seat and came in third behind Vance.

Both Dolan and Moreno have great personal wealth, and the former has already invested $4 million into his campaign. The Haslams’ support of Dolan is perhaps most notable because they intend to rally other donors against Moreno and LaRose, who is the candidate most in need of financial support.

LaRose will need to entice wealthy donors to fund his super PAC to keep pace with two self-funders. But he may find that challenging. LaRose has been critical of the business community, which includes many potential GOP donors, for not doing more to support a ballot initiative that would have made it harder to amend the constitution. LaRose made himself the face of that initiative, which suffered an embarrassing defeat earlier this month when abortion rights activists turned out against it.

LaRose has some history with the Haslams. They have donated more than $45,000 to LaRose’s state political committee since 2018, according to Ohio state records.

Jimmy Haslam is the brother of former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican who is the national co-chair of Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) presidential campaign.

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