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Sen. Brown maintains grassroots fundraising lead in Ohio U.S. Senate race

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Wednesday, November 1, 2023   

By Harshawn Ratanpal for OpenSecrets.
Broadcast version by Nadia Ramlagan for Ohio News Connection reporting for the OpenSecrets-Public News Service Collaboration

With $11.8 million in the bank, incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has far outraised his Republican challengers, who continue to pour their own money into the tightly contested 2024 U.S. Senate race.

But Brown’s war chest may not win him reelection. A poll from Emerson College last week predicts the three-term Democrat losing in a matchup against state senator Matt Dolan (R-Ohio) by two points and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) by one point. The poll, which has a 4.5% margin of error, has Brown defeating Republican businessman Bernie Moreno by one point. 

Republicans could stand to flip the U.S. Senate if Brown loses reelection. 

Once a bellwether, Ohio has taken a recent rightward shift, electing Sen. J.D. Vance (R), who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, to the Senate in 2022. Brown is the only Ohio Democrat to be elected to a non-judicial statewide office since 2008

Still, Brown has retained his ability to fundraise and attract grassroots support. The incumbent Democrat raised $5.8 million from July to September, a 15% increase from the previous quarter. At least 31% of his funds came from donors who contributed $200 or less, an OpenSecrets analysis of third-quarter Federal Election Commission filings found. 

LaRose came closest to matching Brown’s grassroots support, with 21% of his funds coming from small donors. Less than half of one percent of Dolan’s funds came from small donors and small donors accounted for 3% of Moreno’s third-quarter fundraising haul. 

Moreno and Dolan each loaned $3 million to their campaigns in the last three months. Dolan raised an additional $1.1 million and Moreno raised another $1.2 million. LaRose, who began his campaign in July, loaned his campaign $250,000 and raised another $792,000. 

Brown also garnered support from 97 political action committees that contributed a total $256,000 – an average of $2,600 each. Top supporters included leadership PACs affiliated with Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), which each gave $10,000. 

Brown, who joined striking auto workers on picket lines last month, received at least $43,500 from a dozen unions or PACs affiliated with unions between July and September.

Duty and Country, a super PAC that has been federally inactive since 2020, spent $840,000 in September on advertising for Brown. The group reported having just $15,000 at the end of June, and is not required to file donor information until the end of this year. 

In the 2020 election cycle, the group’s funds came from a nonprofit group called Duty and Honor, an affiliate of Senate Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC and Majority Forward, according to tax records. 

Senate Majority PAC supports Democratic candidates in Senate races and is consistently one of the highest-spending super PACs. It often supports affiliate groups dedicated to specific races, like Georgia Honor and The Georgia Way, which both supported Democratic candidates in Georgia Senate races. 

Brown’s Republican challengers in the Ohio Senate race also received PAC support. 

PACs gave $19,000 to Moreno. Most of it came from fellow Republicans, including the leadership PACs of Vance and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Flo.), who each gave $5,000, as well as local candidates and parties. 

Dolan received $23,800 from PACs between July and September. About 20% of that came from committees affiliated with party members. Unlike the PACs supporting Moreno, his third-quarter supporters were limited to PACs affiliated with state and local politicians, including former fellow Ohio state Sens. Jay Hottinger and Bill Beagle, as well as a handful of municipal politicians. The rest came from PACs affiliated with companies headquartered in Ohio. 

LaRose received $9,000 from PACs, including $7,500 from PACs affiliated with trade associations, $1,000 from a PAC affiliated with a real estate investment trust and $500 from the campaign committee of Ohio state Rep. Thomas Patton (R). 

Brown also spent more than his three challengers combined. He spent $3.2 million from July to September, with $1.2 million on digital acquisition, $540,000 on direct mail and another $27,500 on digital advertising.

Dolan spent $1.3 million, with most of it going to television advertising. Moreno spent $700,000, including $150,000 on mailing and $58,000 on digital advertising and marketing. LaRose spent just $172,000 and reported spending $16,900 on mailing. 

No prominent Democrat has challenged Brown. Primary elections are set for March 19, 2024 and the general election is scheduled for Nov. 5.

Harshawn Ratanpal wrote this article for OpenSecrets.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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