COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Businessman and U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Moreno has filed his candidacy paperwork — but he doesn’t want the state’s top election official to touch it.
Moreno declared his candidacy and intent to appear on ballots in the March 2024 primary election, teeing up a Republican battle for the chance to challenge longtime incumbent and Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown. But Moreno said he does not trust fellow Senate candidate Secretary of State Frank LaRose — or his top employees — to review and verify the paperwork in good faith.
“It is critical that Mr. LaRose recuse himself from this process so Ohio voters have confidence he has not, once again, used his official office for political gain by unfairly denying his political opponents access to the ballot or seeking retribution,” wrote Moreno’s campaign manager, David DiStefano, in the declaration of candidacy.
DiStefano’s letter specifically referred to an anonymous source close to the LaRose campaign who told HuffPost that it would benefit Donald Trump to endorse LaRose’s campaign, seeing as LaRose oversees Ohio’s elections.
Moreno and others have criticized LaRose for how he balances his Senate campaign with the duties of his public office. In September, NBC4 reported that the Secretary of State’s office was moving locations — into the same location where his senate campaign is registered.
The move will cost $400,000 up front, with an additional $400,000 to be spent over the next two years. The annual rent will be $11,124 lower than where the Secretary of State’s Office had been located for nearly two decades. The next week, LaRose told NBC4 that the move was coincidental, and to suggest otherwise “is just silly.”
LaRose’s conduct leading up to the August special election has also drawn scrutiny from his opponents and the public. After encouraging the passage of a bill to eliminate most August special elections for high cost and low turnout, LaRose rallied behind a constitutional amendment that would have made it harder for future citizen-initiated amendments to pass.
Days before the August election, the Libertarian Party of Ohio filed a Hatch Act complaint against LaRose, accusing him of using his public office to influence the election and bolster his own senate campaign. Investigations by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel are confidential until findings are released, at which time any substantiated claim will be referred to the proper agency for review.
In a statement, a spokesperson for LaRose’s campaign said the workers in the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office are “the best professionals who have made our elections safe, secure, and the envy of other states.”
“A political stunt like this is beyond desperate and shows why after millions of dollars spent this particular candidate remains in last place,” the spokesperson said. “Losers whine. Winners lead.”
Moreno has run for U.S. Senate before, hoping to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman in 2022. He dropped out of the race before the primary election.
Recent polling from Baldwin Wallace University suggests that most Ohioans are unfamiliar with Moreno — and the other Republican Senate candidates. More than 60% of voters reported not knowing Moreno, compared to 56% who didn’t recognize fellow challenger and state Sen. Matt Dolan, and about 43% who didn’t recognize LaRose.