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A first in Ohio's GOP Senate primary: A candidate ignoring Trump

Matt Dolan, a state senator whose family owns the Cleveland Indians, is running as a pragmatic conservative — not a Trump acolyte.
Ohio Senate Finance Committee Chairman Matt Dolan talks about the state's $75 billion budget in Columbus on June 8.
Ohio Senate Finance Committee Chairman Matt Dolan talks about the state's $75 billion budget in Columbus on June 8.Andrew Welsh-Huggins / AP file

CLEVELAND — There’s something new in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary: a candidate who’s not styling himself as an unshakable ally of former President Donald Trump.

State Sen. Matt Dolan formally launched his campaign Monday after a summer of exploratory activities that included a listening tour across the state.

“After meeting with Republicans, conservative activists and community leaders across Ohio in recent weeks, it’s clear that the focus of the race for U.S. Senate has yet to be about our people, our interests, and our beloved state,” Dolan said in a statement emailed by his campaign. “This changes today with the announcement of my candidacy for U.S. Senate.”

The GOP field features five other candidates who to varying degrees have aligned themselves with Trump and his allies in a race to succeed Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican who has decided not to seek another term next year. Josh Mandel, a former state treasurer; venture capitalist JD Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy”; Jane Timken, the former chair of the Ohio Republican Party; and Cleveland-area businessmen Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno have been eager to please Trump, hire his former aides and compete for his endorsement.

Trump has yet to back a candidate.

Dolan, a longtime state legislator whose family owns the Cleveland Indians, has at least one thing in common with his rivals: the potential to self-fund his campaign. He enters the race as a relative moderate. Even though his announcement video and statement and the homepage for his website boast of his conservative credentials, Trump’s name or image are nowhere to be found. And the lead-up to Monday’s announcement included several overt efforts to distinguish Dolan from the other candidates.

A Dolan aide sniped at Mandel in May for appearing at a local GOP event headlined by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. On the recent listening tour, Dolan emphasized his support for the Senate’s bipartisan, $1 trillion infrastructure bill — legislation that Trump and Dolan’s rivals say they oppose. The posture fits the pragmatic profile Dolan hopes to project.

“What if Ohio’s next senator didn’t just talk big and loud but had a real record of conservative success?” a narrator asks in the opening of Dolan’s launch video.

Dolan, 56, is a familiar name in greater Cleveland, through both his family’s ownership of Cleveland’s Major League Baseball franchise and his public service. The team, responding to complaints of racial insensitivity, will change its name to the Guardians next season.

“Few understand the threat of cancel culture more than me,” Dolan says in the issues section of his website. “Rights afforded by the Constitution, like freedom of speech and the right to due process, are under attack in our classrooms, town squares and sports stadiums. Liberals are weaponizing mob justice and cancel campaigns to silence and censor people and businesses — large and small.”

The mention of “cancel culture” is one of several on Dolan’s website in which, even without acknowledging Trump, he taps into some of the grievances that energize the former president’s base. One page is dedicated to “election integrity” — a term tuned to those who falsely believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Two Democrats are also seeking the Senate seat: Rep. Tim Ryan and progressive lawyer Morgan Harper.