Matt Dolan formally announced his campaign to challenge Senator Sherrod Brown and become the next Republican Senator of Ohio on Tuesday. Ohio will be at the center of GOP attempts to flip the Senate in 2024, as Democrats are already on the brink of losing their majority. With vulnerable incumbents in the deep red states of Montana and West Virginia, Democrats will struggle to hold their slim 51-49 majority, especially if they lose control of the White House. Brown boasts an exceptionally strong electoral record, overperforming Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance by 13% in 2018.
Dolan is a Republican State Senator from Cuyahoga County. He ran for the Republican Senate nomination in 2022, losing out to eventual Senator J.D. Vance by a 32%-23% margin. Dolan was strongest in more Democratic-leaning areas (such as Franklin and Cuyahoga counties), held his own in the suburbs (such as in Delaware and Warren counties), and suffered crushing defeats in rural areas. Although his main opponents focused their campaign on winning former President Trump’s backing, Dolan did not seek out his endorsement and instead focused on winning with a different strategy. He said President Biden legitimately won the 2020 election and is closely linked to the John Kasich wing of Ohio Republicans—conservative but relatively moderate, with a focus on empathic rhetoric.
Diving Into Dolan’s 2022 GOP Primary Campaign
Dolan lagged behind other more conservative firebrands, including Vance, Josh Mandel, and Mike Gibbons, for the majority of his 2022 Ohio Senate campaign. In the end, he finished in third place, just narrowly behind Mandel.
Dolan even poured his personal wealth into the race, surging late from an afterthought to a serious contender. Ohio’s open primary system left the door open for Democrats to cross party lines to back Dolan and Governor Mike DeWine, who boasts a significant amount of crossover appeal himself as evidenced by his landslide victory in November. Given Dolan’s heightened support in blue areas, analysts have long speculated for a variety of reasons that Dolan received a large portion of his support from Democrats and Independents rather than from Republicans. But until now, it was unclear whether Biden-voters actually crossed party lines, or Trump-voters in more liberal areas were just more likely to back the moderate Dolan.
Democrats Boosted Dolan’s 2022 Campaign
Our analysis reveals that Biden-voters turned out in moderate numbers to back Dolan against Vance and Mandel in 2022. While ~31% of 2020 Trump-voters turned out to vote in the 2022 OH GOP Senate Primary, only about ~2% of Biden-voters did so as well. And while Dolan only won ~18% of the Trump-voters who turned out backed out, he won the support of the vast majority of Biden voters. Cross-ticket voters composed of an unusually large portion of Dolan’s support. We estimate ~26% of Dolan’s supporters voted for Biden in 2020, compared to a negligible amount of his competitors’ supporters.
What This Means for Dolan’s 2024 Campaign
Unfortunately for Matt Dolan, he will mostly be unable to rely on the support of these Biden-voters in 2024. These voters backed Dolan both because of his more moderate views (compared to his opponents), but also because they saw no reason to participate in the Democratic Primary in 2022. If there is a contested Democratic Presidential Primary in 2024 (betting markets do not seem to think Biden is a lock to win the Democratic nomination), these voters will decide they have something much more important to weigh in on with their primary ballot. Also, many Democrats saw the OH Senate Race as a lost cause in (what was expected to be) a strong midterm for Republicans nationally, leading them to back Dolan over Vance or Mandel to become their next Senator. But Democrats will be more optimistic that Sherrod Brown, an exceptionally strong incumbent, can win re-election. Dolan certainly enjoys many advantages, including a strong electability argument and his robust personal wealth, that could convince Ohio’s Republican voters he is the best choice to become the Republican nominee. That being said, he will start this election cycle off by losing a substantial amount of the support he built up in 2022, which is not a good way to start off a second Senate campaign.
The author used county-level from the state and precinct-level data from Cuyahoga and Warren County to build a simple model to estimate how people voted in the 2022 OH GOP Senate primary based on their 2020 Presidential General Election vote. The author estimated this probability by creating a set of linear regression models with pegged intercepts predicting 2022 OH GOP Senate primary precinct candidate vote totals from the 2020 Presidential General Election precinct candidate vote totals. One can think of the regression’s beta-values as the probability that if there were one more Biden/Trump 2020 voter added to a county, they would end up voting for Dolan in the 2022 OH GOP Senate primary.
The model assumes that no voters participated in the 2022 OH GOP Senate primary without previously voting in the 2020 Presidential Election, which is unlikely to significantly modify the results of this analysis.