Republicans Are Counting on Millionaires to Flip the Senate

Since his rise to the presidency, Donald Trump has claimed enormous wealth as proof that he is an anti-establishment ally of the working class, not beholden to corporate donors or special interests.

The Republican Party, eyeing control of the Senate next year, is trying to mimic his success with a cohort of candidates who in the past might have been attacked as a bunch of rich men but this year will be sold as successful outsiders in the Trump mold.

The decision by Ohio voters Tuesday to nominate Bernie Moreno to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, is the capstone of a year that has crowned nominees — or anointed clear front-runners — with remarkable wealth in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Montana and now Ohio.

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That might match the party’s presumptive nominee, Trump, but with backgrounds in banking and hedge funds, properties in Connecticut and Laguna Beach, California, and education credentials from Princeton and the Naval Academy, some in the 2024 class feel more like the days of Mitt Romney, worth around $174 million, and John McCain, a Naval Academy graduate who married into a beer-distributing empire, than the current moment when blue-collar credibility is the currency of the realm.

The intentional decision by Republicans in Washington, D.C., to get behind candidates with enormous personal fortunes will most likely give the party a boost as it struggles for campaign cash against the Democrats’ formidable grassroots fundraising operations. But the sheer affluence of the candidates — and how they made their money — is sure to be a factor in the fight for Senate control.

“That’s who they are,” Brown, who is worth about $263,000, said in an interview Wednesday, commenting on the lineup of millionaire Republicans arrayed against Democratic incumbents. “I guess I’m not surprised by that.”

Republicans say their candidates will make the case that they are successful political outsiders, running against career politicians who used their years in Washington to raise their net worth and enrich their families.

“We’ve recruited a roster of candidates with impressive backgrounds in business and, in many cases, military service,” said Mike Berg, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Democrats have a roster of career politicians with questionable ethics. We’ll take that contrast any day of the week.”

But if a clash over net worth comes down to numbers in bank accounts, the Republicans will have the bigger figures to answer for.

To call Moreno a former auto dealer, for instance, is to miss the scale of his business and investment fortune. In 2023, Moreno, a Colombian-born businessman, filed financial disclosure forms that revealed assets valued from $25.5 million to $105.7 million and an annual income nearing $6 million. Those assets include a $2.3 million Aston Martin Vulcan, one of only 24 ever made; a house listed in Ocean Reef, Florida, worth as much as $25 million; land in Zapotal, Costa Rica; condominiums in New York, Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio; and a home in Avon, Ohio, valued at up to $5 million.

But like Trump, whose endorsement helped deliver his victory, Moreno is confident he can speak to the blue-collar voters who have been the backbone of Brown’s support since the Democrat was elected in 2006.

“We are not the party of the elites in big business,” Moreno told reporters Tuesday. “We’re the party of the working class.”

An Unusually Wealthy Crop of Candidates

Affluence has been a hallmark of the Senate perhaps since its inception, in both parties. The richest senator, Rick Scott, R-Fla., is running for reelection this fall and has shown a ready willingness to tap his fortune to ensure electoral success. The second-richest is a Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia.

But the Republican Party, wary of the Democrats’ fundraising prowess in recent cycles, has recruited candidates from a significantly higher economic echelon than the working-class voters it is trying to woo in swing states. With Democrats holding 51 seats, Republican control is a hairbreadth away.

The retirement of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., virtually assures the loss of one seat to that state’s governor, Jim Justice, whose days as a billionaire coal baron may have passed, according to Forbes, but who is still worth hundreds of millions.

In Pennsylvania, David McCormick, the former CEO of Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the world, is challenging Sen. Bob Casey. McCormick and his wife, Dina Powell McCormick, a Trump administration official and former partner at Goldman Sachs, reported assets in 2022 worth $116 million to $290 million.

In another key swing state, Wisconsin, Republicans are banking on Eric Hovde, the chair and CEO of Sunwest Bank, a $2.8 billion commercial lender, to challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Sunwest, based in Sandy, Utah, has operations in the West and in Florida. He considers his home to be Madison, Wisconsin, but has been listed as a mover and shaker in Orange County, California, business circles. Democrats have repeatedly hit him over his $7 million home in Laguna Beach, California.

In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, faces a reelection battle in a state that gave Trump 57% of its vote in 2020, and his opponent, Tim Sheehy, is leaning on his background as a decorated former Navy SEAL and a firefighting pilot. But there is another piece of his resume: Bridger Aerospace, an aerial firefighting company he founded, went public in 2022, valued at $869 million.

So far, the candidates are leaning into their success. Hovde released an advertisement Friday saying he has “worked hard, been fortunate” and does not need special-interest money. He vowed to donate his Senate salary to a Wisconsin charity.

On Wednesday, in a new advertisement airing statewide in Montana, Sheehy interspersed images of his combat duties with a promise to tap his own wealth: “I don’t need the money from lobbyists,” he said. “I can do the right thing in office because it’s the right thing for America.”

Democrats See Openings for Attack

For Democrats, their opponents’ backgrounds offer them a choice: tie them to Trump and his brand of what they call extremism, or fall back on a tried-and-true strategy to portray them as out-of-touch elitists, with histories of harming employees and customers alike.

“The roster of Republican Senate recruits come with enough baggage to fill a bank vault,” said David Bergstein, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Their finances demonstrate a wealth of vulnerabilities against them, from conflicts of interest to outsourcing to questionable financial practices.”

In Ohio, Moreno’s Republican opponents, especially the Republican establishment’s choice, state Sen. Matt Dolan, repeatedly went after him for a lawsuit filed by an employee of one of his car dealerships, who sued him in 2017 for failure to pay overtime. The judge in the case determined that Moreno “either did not retain or shredded” monthly reports on overtime hours. The Moreno campaign has countered repeatedly that the suit stemmed from a change in Massachusetts overtime law, not the actions of Moreno’s management. But Moreno did lose the suit and was ordered to pay $416,160 to his employees.

Democrats have hinted that they have many more potentially damaging stories to tell about Moreno, one reason their leadership-aligned super political action committee, the Senate Majority PAC, spent big in the last days of the Ohio primary to boost the businessperson’s chances against Dolan.

Republicans will counter with Brown’s failure for years to disclose his wife’s pension assets, worth $250,001-$500,000. Last year, he amended several years’ worth of disclosure forms to account for the pension.

McCormick, Hovde and Sheehy will all face questions about their commitments to the states they seek to represent in the Senate. McCormick’s home in Connecticut was the main point of attack in 2022 when he lost the Republican primary to Mehmet Oz for a vacant Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

Hovde was raised in Wisconsin, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and counts Madison as his home. But his ties to California will be central to the Democratic case against him.

Sheehy appears to be a dream candidate for Montana, but in facing Tester, a flat-topped farmer from Big Sandy, Montana, his recent arrival in the state could prove to be an issue. He grew up in Shoreview, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, in a multimillion-dollar lake house, went to private preparatory school and then to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, before being discharged from the military with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He moved to Bozeman, Montana, in 2014 and founded Bridger Aerospace and Ascent Vision Technologies, the latter of which he sold for $350 million in 2020.

Republicans involved in the general-election campaigns say they have plenty of issues to counter those charges with, at least to muddy the waters: a $1.3 million condominium in Washington, D.C., that Baldwin bought with her partner, Maria Brisbane, in 2021; the rising net worth of Tester; and family lobbying ties connected to Casey.

As for their standard-bearer, Trump, his scramble to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming days to meet the judgment against him for business fraud is raising questions not over how he made his money but whether he can keep it.

His campaign, facing myriad financial pressures amid mounting legal bills stemming from the criminal cases against him, is scrambling to raise cash.

c.2024 The New York Times Company

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