AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
The most important U.S. Senate race in 2024 will very likely be the contest in Ohio between incumbent Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown and the eventual Republican nominee. In addition to the race likely going a long way toward determining overall control of the Senate, Democrats are desperate to regain some footing and momentum in the Buckeye State after a string of defeats in what was once a perennial battleground, while Republicans are looking to follow up on J.D. Vance’s success in 2022 and complete a GOP sweep of statewide offices.
Looking at next year’s Senate map, it’s bad news for Democrats almost everywhere. Of the 34 seats up for re-election, 20 are held by Democrats, 3 by Independents who caucus with Democrats, and just 11 by Republicans.
Nine of the GOP’s 11 seats are rated as “Safe R” by the Cook Political Report, while the other two are rated as “Likely R.” Democrats, meanwhile, have just 15 seats in the “Safe D” column, five in the “Lean D” column, and three in the “Toss Up” column.
Of the seven races rated “Lean D” or “Toss Up,” the three most intriguing for Republicans are the re-election bids of Jon Tester in Montana, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Sherrod Brown in Ohio. All three of those Democrats face re-election in states Trump won handily in 2016 and 2020, whereas Biden won the home states of the five other vulnerable Democrats. The GOP will need to flip at least two seats to win an outright 51-49 Senate majority.
It is difficult to envision a scenario where Democrats hold their own Senate majority without holding Brown’s seat. Particularly with the entry of popular Republican Governor Jim Justice into the West Virginia race and Manchin himself hinting that he may vacate his seat for a third-party presidential run, that state seems a likely Republican pickup. In Montana, Tester is currently seen as having a better chance of winning, but that will be for naught if Brown loses in Ohio.
Recent history suggests the three-term senator has a big challenge ahead of him to retain his seat. Although Republicans have largely held power in Columbus for decades, Democrats were competitive in the state in the early 2000s and 2010s, winning the governorship in 2006 and control of the Ohio House of Representatives in 2008. Obama also won the state twice in 2008 and 2012, further reinforcing Ohio’s status as a bellwether in presidential contests. (The state has voted for the winning candidate all but three times since 1896.)
And of course, Brown himself won election to the Senate in 2006, riding a wave of midterm backlash against President George W. Bush to become the first Democrat senator from Ohio since 1976. Brown was the beneficiary of favorable political timing again with his first re-election bid in Obama’s successful re-election year in 2012, and again in the 2018 midterm year.
Democrats are hopeful that Brown will be a bright spot once more for the party in 2024 and reverse a streak of disappointing cycles that seem to suggest Ohio is moving from light pink to ruby red. The DNC poured significant resources into Ohio in both 2016 and 2020, only to see Trump carry the state by more than eight points both times. Last year, Democrats believed Tim Ryan had a real shot at defeating Republican J.D. Vance for the retiring Rob Portman’s seat, only to see Vance win comfortably.
Voters also re-elected Republican Governor Mike DeWine by a wide margin and sent a GOP supermajority in both the House and Senate to Columbus. While the prophesized “red wave” failed to materialize nationally in 2022, last November was a catastrophic red tsunami for Ohio Democrats, leaving the party on life support heading into 2024.
Meanwhile, last year’s GOP performance gives Ohio Republicans confidence that Brown’s good fortune will run out next year and his far-left voting record will finally catch up with him. According to “Progressive Punch,” a website that tracks how liberal each member of Congress is, Brown has a voting record that is more out of line with the political leanings of his state than any other member of the Senate.
The Republican primary race in Ohio has already begun, with state senator Matt Dolan and Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno declaring their candidacy earlier this year. Former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken and former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, both of whom ran in 2022, are also considered potential candidates, along with popular Congressman Warren Davidson and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
Regardless of who emerges as the Republican nominee, he or she is almost certain to embrace Trump’s America First brand of politics. Trump is widely credited for accelerating Ohio’s shift toward the GOP in 2016 and 2020, and his endorsement of J.D. Vance vaulted the author and venture capitalist to the top of primary polling last year.
Senator Vance has made an unusually early endorsement of Moreno, who has also earned praise from Trump. But with the primary still nearly a year away and the field far from set, the race is only just beginning to heat up.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio.