Ohio right-winger Moreno to face pro-worker Sen. Sherrod Brown
Ohio's Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, above, a strong advocate for workers' rights, is being challenged by Trumpite Bernie Moreno who won the GOP primary yesterday. Moreno, who stole overtime wages from his own workers, calls Brown "the old commie." | Andrew Harnik/AP

CLEVELAND—Extreme right-wing Cleveland business owner Bernie Moreno, Donald Trump’s favorite candidate—who infamously stiffed his workers on overtime pay—easily won the Ohio Republican U.S. Senate primary on March 19. He’ll face Democratic incumbent, the strongly pro-worker Sherrod Brown this fall.

Moreno won just over half the GOP vote in a three-way race which illustrated how the Republican Party has been transformed into a Trump cult. The second-place finisher, with a third of the vote, vied for the former Oval Office occupant’s nod, too. The third-placer, the Secretary of State, had so-called Republican “establishment” support and got one-sixth. It has become clear in Ohio, as elsewhere across the country, that the Trumpites now constitute the real Republican “establishment.”

Moreno’s win sets up a classic contrast in increasingly red Ohio, once a bellwether swing state. Both candidates have, or will have, plenty of money. Indeed, Brown’s campaign spent several million dollars on media ads boosting Moreno as a down-the-line Trumpite, figuring that would make him the easiest foe to beat this fall.

Brown is the Senate’s leading champion of Midwestern industrial workers and crafted the law to rescue multiemployer pension plans from the carnage of the 2008-09 Wall Street-caused recession.

The senator is also a performing arts union member. His spouse, Connie Schultz, was active in the successful Ohio campaign for abortion rights and is a News Guild member and former Pulitzer Prize winner for the late Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Brown also strongly supports workers’ rights and shares their skepticism about “fast track” and international trade pacts. Brown and workers finally won a pro-worker Biden-Harris administration that also is skeptical—after the skeptics strong-armed the much more pro-worker USMCA trade pact through Congress during the Trump regime.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, a Toledoan who takes the same stands as Brown and appeals to the same working-class constituents, is also, like Brown a top Republican target this fall. Republican redistricting put her in danger as Kaptur, the most senior woman U.S. House member, seeks a 22nd two-year term. She faced no primary competition.

Moreno is a Trump worshiper who stiffed 17 workers in his Massachusetts car dealership, and who settled their suits for a $400,000 fine. After he moved himself and his car dealerships to Cleveland, workers there sued him for age and sex discrimination. He also speculates in the so-called currency, bitcoin.

And like right-wing Ohio Republicans, Moreno opposes abortion rights. The voters don’t. They inserted it into the state constitution in a referendum last year.

Moreno is controversial and not just because Trump not only backed him but gave a fiery and rambling pre-election speech on his behalf. With Moreno beaming at his side, the indicted and convicted—of financial fraud—former Oval Office occupant ranted about “a bloodbath” should he lose this fall’s presidential election to Democratic incumbent Joe Biden.

Trump’s bloodbath remark drew immediate condemnation from top leaders of both parties—including Trump’s Vice President, Mike Pence—who remembered and denounced Trump for aiding, abetting, and ordering the fatal Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite trashing of the U.S. Capitol, in an attempt to maintain him in the Oval Office, even though Trump lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden.

Moreno also skewered Brown. He called the senator “a lapdog” for progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and “an absolute enabler” for Democratic President Joe Biden.

“We have an opportunity now to retire the old commie, and send him to a retirement home and save this country because that’s what we’re going to do,” Moreno told the Trumpite crowd.

“The choice ahead of Ohio is clear: Bernie Moreno has spent his career and campaign putting himself first, and would do the same if elected. I’ll always work for Ohio,” Brown responded on X/twitter.

Has his own baggage

Moreno has his own baggage. Like his god, Trump, Moreno refused to pay his workers.

Trump refused to pay anything to the union workers who built his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J., almost two decades ago. The Laborers local had to sue Trump for the back pay. After years of Trump-engineered court delays, the union settled for 60-70 cents on the dollar—paid by Trump’s successor mogul.

Moreno refused to pay overtime in 2017 to workers at his Burlington, Mass., Mercedes-Benz car dealership. And he shredded the documents which proved they should have been paid. Moreno owed worker Omar Adam, who sued, two years’ worth of overtime, court papers said.

“Bernie, we learned this week that we don’t know if we can trust you,” State Sen. Matt Dolan, the second-place finisher in the GOP primary said during a late-January candidates’ debate.

“Your employees trusted you to follow a court order and to not destroy documents that helped their case against you. What did you do? You shredded those documents” in 2020 “because it helped Bernie Moreno, not the employees. This is a matter of trust.” The judge in the case wrote that Moreno “either did not retain or shredded these monthly reports” of owed overtime to Adam and others.

Legally, the judge said, Moreno was required to keep the reports, as evidence.

The Ohio Republican Senate race was the marquee contest among primaries in five states. Another race of real note was also in the Buckeye State. In what could be an expensive rerun of an expensive state Supreme Court race in Wisconsin last year, Democrat Lisa Forbes won a party primary for an open seat there, and it’s the court’s swing seat.

If Forbes triumphs in the fall over Republican and fellow local judge Dan Hawkins, she would be the key vote on the court. It now has a 4-3 Republican majority, and three seats—two of them Democratic-held—are up.

The Ohio Supreme Court will face cases involving specifics of how to implement Ohio’s new constitutional amendment, approved last year, enshrining abortion in the state’s basic charter. Forbes would also decide the fate of non-partisan redistricting plans for the heavily Republican-gerrymandered legislature and congressional delegation.

Besides the races in Ohio, the other contests of note were in and around Chicago. The hottest one wasn’t for Congress—Democrats Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Danny Davis easily won contested primaries—but for Cook County State’s Attorney, the top prosecutor in the state’s dominant county.

With 85% of the vote counted, former judge Eileen O’Neill Burke, the “moderate in the race, led progressive former prosecutor Clayton Harris, by 10,000 votes, 51%-49%.

But election officials reported there were still almost 160,000 vote-by-mail ballots yet to be counted, WLS-TV reported. Incumbent State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is retiring.

The Davis race was notable because a right-wing super PAC allied with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—which is targeting “The Squad” of progressive Democrats and their allies–poured almost half a million dollars into negative ads against Kim Collins, a critic of Israel’s military hammering of Gazan civilians. Collins finished third and the super PAC crowed with glee.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.