Externally conservative or “shape-shifting”? Meet Ohio Senate candidate Bernie Moreno

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of profiles on Republicans running in Ohio’s U.S. Senate primary. Articles about State Sen. Matt Dolan and Secretary of State Frank LaRose will be published at a later date.

You can read our story about Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown’s re-election bid here.

Bernie Moreno once said he would never run for political office.

“There are people who want to be in the military, wear a uniform — God bless them 100 times over — and I would never do that,” Moreno said during a 2020 news conference. “I was not designed for that.” Up2 podcast interview. “Nor was I created to be an elected official. But we have a responsibility as good citizens to support candidates who are doing a good job, because if not, we give up the right to complain about it.”

Fast forward to today: Moreno, a businessman who made his fortune in Cleveland, is running for the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate for the second time. He’s competing against Secretary of State Frank LaRose and state Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, for a chance to take over. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown In November.

The primary is March 19.

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The same man who said he was not qualified to hold elected office presents himself as a political outsider in the mold of the former president Donald Trump and Ohio Senator J.D. Vance. Moreno has never worked as a public servant, and he says that is a feature of his campaign. Trump and Vance agree, as does a coalition of prominent Republicans who have lined up behind Moreno’s campaign.

“I think sometimes the media and the left get into the whole Trump thing, like, ‘Are you a Trump person?'” Moreno said. “The truth is that President Trump represents a movement, and it’s this idea that we’ve stolen for years. We have people in D.C. from both parties, Democrats and Republicans, who went out there and looted the country. We were more interested in other things than putting Americans’ interests first.”

Moreno’s critics assert that he cannot be believed, pointing out that The lawsuits he faced As an employer and his changing positions on immigration, Trump and gun control. But the former president’s endorsement propelled Vance to victory in the 2022 Senate primary, and observers say history may repeat itself.

“It’s a very strong endorsement,” Vance said. “It’s very important. Bernie still has to work to earn voters’ trust.”

Immigrant turned business leader in Ohio

Moreno immigrated to the United States from Colombia with his family just before his fifth birthday. He said that in Colombia they enjoyed the wealth resulting from his father’s position as Minister of Health, and Moreno’s brother even had his own horse and stables. But his mother believed that America could teach them the value of hard work and perseverance, so they left for a more humble life in South Florida.

As one of seven children, Moreno said he often talked to his father about cars to get his attention. He remembers going car shopping with his father, who measured his personal success by the make and model he could afford. This got Moreno thinking about the auto business, and he began working in the industry after studying at the University of Michigan.

Moreno spent several years at a car dealership in Boston, and was promoted to vice president of the company. In 2005, he purchased a struggling Mercedes-Benz dealership in suburban Cleveland and turned that business into a multistate franchise. His time in Boston — and the tech boom he witnessed there — later inspired Moreno to create a blockchain company that digitizes automobile titles.

“My net worth was negative by several million in May 2005,” Moreno said. “If I didn’t make it, my joke was that I would be a peddler at McDonald’s because it was either success or complete failure.”

Bernie Moreno greets voters and candidates for other offices during a Warren County Republican Party meeting on January 18.

Bernie Moreno greets voters and candidates for other offices during a Warren County Republican Party meeting on January 18.

Moreno’s career has not been without speed bumps. He settled more than a dozen lawsuits in Massachusetts over it Overtime pay for employeesIn one case, the judge punished him for destroying reports that showed more than 40 hours of recording. Moreno said basic payroll data has been maintained.

But his business exploits also earned him accolades, board positions, and even… Center of Sales Excellence Cleveland State University is named after him. In 2017, Moreno accepted a humanitarian award from the Northeast Ohio Diversity Center I used his statements To emphasize the importance of inclusion.

“If you watch Fox News, switch to MSNBC for a while,” he said during his speech. “That would be good for you. If you watch MSNBC, you can handle a little Fox News. And if you don’t watch cable TV at all, run for office — you’re the smartest person here.”

So, how did Moreno end up in the second U.S. Senate primary? He said he changed his mind about running for office during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying elected officials did nothing while the government encroached on people’s lives.

In March 2020, he… He praised the procedures Gov. Mike DeWine and former Health Director Amy Acton, who were among the first state officials to enact coronavirus lockdowns. But he also criticized the economic impact of business closures It ignited a firestorm When he tweeted from the plane about reopening the country.

Moreno changed his tune on gun control and immigration

Moreno, an immigrant, has made border security a hallmark of his campaign. He asserts that Brown and President Joe Biden represent a Democratic Party that has become too elitist. He added that inflation was still hurting Americans, in part because of the “attack on American energy.” He and the people who support him believe Ohio State needs a new face to turn things around.

“They look at the statehouse sometimes as an institution,” said Joe Statzer, executive director of the Butler County Republican Party, who endorsed Moreno. “Same old, same old. They want agents of change, and they want outsiders who they believe have the courage to make that change. Bernie certainly carries that message.”

But Moreno’s opponents often point to the businessman’s past, suggesting voters are being sold a fake bill of goods.

Bernie Moreno announces his U.S. Senate campaign at Little Miami Brewing Company in Milford in April 2023.

Bernie Moreno announces his U.S. Senate campaign at Little Miami Brewing Company in Milford in April 2023.

During the electoral campaign, Moreno said “lazy politicians” want to pass gun controls without addressing the root cause of the violence. But it is Strike a different tone In 2019, he said background checks are reasonable to ensure a person carrying a firearm does not pose a danger to themselves or others.

“What gun do you need to have 100 bullets?” Moreno said during the interview with Fortify Your Data. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to take your damn gun away, but do you really need 100 bullets? At one time? I mean, do you have that kind of attention deficit disorder? … And by the way, do you? Would you eat a deer with 100 bullets in it?”

A spokesman for Moreno said that was not his “unequivocal” position on guns today.

Like Vance, Moreno She revolted against Trump During the 2016 presidential primaries. He called The people who attacked the US Capitol on January 6 are “morons,” but they assert that the “two-tiered justice system” punishes them more harshly than Black Lives Matter protesters. He previously supported him path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and now says they should all be deported.

Moreno said his view on immigration changed after he studied the issue closely and saw an “invasion of illegal immigration.”

“Bernie Moreno has been caught shredding court documents, deleting his liberal tweets and hiding legal settlements, all in an attempt to hide the fact that he is ideologically variable and prone to blaming others for his poor judgment,” said Chris Maloney, a strategist at Dolan. “Nominating Bernie would be a bad bet that would only pay off for Sherrod Brown.”

It remains to be seen whether this argument resonates with voters. University of Cincinnati political scientist David Niven said Trump’s endorsement represents a major strength in Ohio’s Republican primary, and inconsistencies or legal problems are unlikely to turn people away. For example, Vance was a vocal critic of Trump until he wasn’t anymore.

“Moreno presents himself well, but he’s almost disadvantaged by how little he needs those skills in the primary,” said Nevin, who worked as a speechwriter for former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. “He doesn’t get the greatest test to prepare himself for Sherrod Brown.”

For Moreno, his opponents represent the Republican old guard ill-equipped to deal with today’s challenges.

“Frank (LaRose) likes to call me the used car salesman,” Moreno said. “This is a perfect example of what’s wrong with their way of thinking. They look down on the guy who sells used cars. Why would you choose people who wake up every day, go to work to provide for their families? But that’s the way it is mentality.”

Haley Bimmiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, serving the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

This article originally appeared on the Cincinnati Enquirer website: Who is Bernie Moreno? Meet the Trump-backed Senate candidate in Ohio

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