“Ohio’s Senate Race Heats Up with Special Election on Hot-Button Ballot Measure”

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CLEVELAND — The first battle of Ohio’s Senate race has already begun, as three Republicans vie to unseat Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2024. The conflict intensifies on Tuesday with a special election featuring a hot-button ballot measure.

Among the GOP candidates, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose stands out as the highest-profile advocate for Issue 1, a measure that aims to raise the bar for ratifying future state constitutional amendments from the current 50%-plus-one requirement to 60%.

If Issue 1 passes, this new threshold will also apply to a separate November ballot measure, which seeks to enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution. This could make it more challenging for Democrats to challenge the Republican dominance in Ohio and spotlight Sen. Sherrod Brown’s increasingly vulnerable position in a state that leans more towards the red side.

LaRose’s active role in promoting the ballot measure has become a point of tension in the Senate primary race. A loss in the special election could exacerbate these feelings.

LaRose has asserted that his wealthy rivals for the nomination have not done enough to support Issue 1. Known as a moderate who has actively courted the conservative base of the GOP, LaRose is facing criticism from both sides for focusing heavily on the abortion angle ahead of Tuesday’s vote. Critics accuse him of dividing his attention between his political ambitions and his responsibilities in administering the special election.

Scott Guthrie, a veteran of Republican Senate campaigns in Ohio, who has no affiliations with the 2024 candidates, pointed out that a victory on Tuesday could provide LaRose with a compelling narrative for donors and lend credibility to his standing with conservative grassroots supporters across the state. However, a failure of the issue could leave LaRose open to criticism from the skeptical conservative base.

Reliable polling on Issue 1 has been scarce, but a recent survey by USA Today and Suffolk University showed that 57% of respondents opposed the measure. Both sides have invested millions of dollars in television advertisements, and Republican proponents of the measure expressed optimism after seeing an increase in early votes from rural counties.

In an interview with NBC News, LaRose stated, “I don’t really give a darn whether it helps me or hurts me. I’m confident we’ll win this. But even if we don’t, I think it’s better to fight and lose than to not fight at all when it’s a worthwhile cause.”

Last week, LaRose’s Senate campaign called on his Republican rivals, business entrepreneur Bernie Moreno and state Sen. Matt Dolan, to each contribute $1 million to support Issue 1. Dolan, who owns the Cleveland Guardians, an MLB team, is already self-funding his Senate bid, while Moreno, a former car dealer, has significant wealth and has previously contributed $100,000 to the Protect Women Ohio Fund, which opposes the abortion rights amendment set for the November ballot.

Observers in the state saw LaRose’s plea as an attempt to shift the blame in the event of a defeat on Tuesday. The rival campaigns dismissed it as a mere stunt.

Responding to LaRose’s plea, Moreno’s spokesperson Conor McGuinness stated, “It’s really sad that days before the monumental Issue 1 vote, Frank is spending his time humiliating himself and attacking fellow Republicans to the mainstream media. While too many career politicians only seem to care about getting credit to advance their political careers, the only thing Bernie cares about is doing everything in his power to ensure Issue 1 passes.”

LaRose, an Army veteran and longtime politician, explained that he lacks the financial means to contribute to the cause. Nevertheless, he helped raise $1 million for Leadership for Ohio, a nonprofit group launched before his Senate bid, which now aligns with it.

LaRose noted that he did not urge the group to donate to Issue 1 during the time he coordinated with them before becoming an official candidate, as campaign finance laws prohibited him from doing so. He emphasized that he has invested “sweat equity” by actively promoting the measure at nearly 70 events.

Moreno and Dolan have also advocated for Issue 1 during their appearances across Ohio, adding further intensity to the ongoing battle of Ohio’s Senate race.

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