Trump conviction makes its way into top Senate races

Republicans running in Ohio and Montana released attack ads over the verdict.

June 3, 2024, 6:43 PM

While former President Donald Trump's conviction is injecting new uncertainty into this year's White House race, the verdict is also starting to roil potentially equally consequential races: those for key Senate seats.

Republican Senate candidates released ads Monday savaging Montana Sen. Jon Tester and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the chamber's two most vulnerable Democrats this cycle. And top GOP officials are even going after former Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan who represents the GOP's best shot at winning a deep-blue Senate seat after he issued a statement calling for respect for the legal process rather than reflexive support for the former president.

The conviction hasn't meaningfully yet made its way into Senate races in purple states such as Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, but the contests in Montana, Ohio and Maryland represent marquee opportunities for Republicans to eat away at Democrats' Senate majority.

Businessman Tim Sheehy, Tester's opponent, fired the first shot Monday on the issue, releasing an ad dubbing the prosecution of Trump "lawfare" led by President Joe Biden and a radical left that wants to "throw Trump in jail."

"And Jon Tester is standing right by their side," a narrator says before highlighting a past clip of Tester on MSNBC saying someone needs "to go back and punch [Trump] in the face" and highlighting Tester's vote to convict Trump in each of his impeachment trials.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan speaks to guests at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting on Nov. 18, 2022 in Las Vegas.
Scott Olson/Getty Images, FILE

Bernie Moreno, the Republican businessman challenging Brown, followed up with a digital ad of his own that features a past video of Brown saying that "Biden's politics now are not much different from mine."

"It doesn't matter the issue, Sherrod Brown stands with Biden, even as he turns the judicial system into a weapon to interfere in the presidential election," a narrator says in the video. "Sen. Sherrod Brown stands by, refusing to condemn Biden's politically motivated witch hunt."

A source familiar with the Moreno ad said it was backed by a five-figure buy on digital and texting platforms but that a 30-second version was also created that could be run on television in the future.

Sheehy's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how much money went into its ad.

The videos underscored the dynamics of the two races in which Sheehy and Moreno are running in states Trump handily won and is expected to carry again this year, meaning holding onto all of the former president's voters is likely a ticket to the Senate -- and winning either race is expected to hand the GOP a Senate majority.

"This is a layup for Sheehy and Moreno," said a Republican strategist working on Senate races.

The Brown campaign had no comment on Moreno's ad, but the Tester campaign swatted away Sheehy's attack, noting his upbringing outside Montana and underscoring Tester's past bipartisan work.

"Tim Sheehy is trying to cover up the fact that he is an out-of-state multimillionaire who has been caught lying about every part of his life and is running for Senate to benefit himself, not Montana. Jon will continue running on his record of always fighting for what's best for Montana -- including getting more than 20 bills signed into law by President Trump," said Tester campaign spokesperson Monica Robinson

One national Democratic operative working on Senate races also predicted the Trump conviction won't play a major role in the races once voters head to the polls in November -- five months from now.

"The outcome of Senate races will be driven by the poor quality and disqualifying flaws of the GOP's candidates," the person said.

The impact of the Trump conviction on Senate races also wasn't just confined to GOP attacks on Democrats.

Lara Trump, the former president's daughter-in-law and a Republican National Committee co-chair, and Chris LaCivita, a top official with both the Trump campaign and the RNC, savaged Hogan for saying that Americans "must not pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship" and should "reaffirm what has made this nation great: the rule of law."

"You just ended your campaign," LaCivita wrote on X in response to Hogan's statement.

PHOTO: Split image featuring Bernie Moreno, Republican Senate candidate for Ohio, in Washington, DC, May 15, 2024, and Tim Sheehy, founder and chief executive officer of Bridger Aerospace and Republican Senate candidate for Montana on Jan. 18, 2024.
Split image featuring Bernie Moreno, Republican Senate candidate for Ohio, during the DC Blockchain Summit in Washington, DC, May 15, 2024, and Tim Sheehy, founder and chief executive officer of Bridger Aerospace and Republican Senate candidate for Montana, at the Bridger hangar in Bozeman, Montana, Jan. 18, 2024.
Al Drago and Louise Johns/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lara Trump also declined to say whether the RNC would support Hogan, saying during an appearance on CNN she'd have to circle back on the "specifics monetarily."

"I think anybody who's not speaking up in the face of really something that should never again have seen the light of day, a trial that would never have been brought against any other person aside from Donald Trump, doesn't deserve the respect of anyone," Lara Trump said. "[Hogan] doesn't deserve the respect of anyone in the Republican Party at this point, and, quite frankly, anybody in America."

The comment raised eyebrows over how much the RNC will contest Maryland's open Senate seat -- a seat that hadn't been considered to be remotely in play until Hogan, a popular former two-term governor, threw his hat into the ring.

"Maybe I'm old school, but I always thought the RNC's focus should be on winning elections," Doug Heye, a former top RNC official, wrote on X.

Still, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the chair of Senate Republicans' campaign arm, said he still intends on supporting Hogan.

"I think that the trial was a complete sham. I'll be clear on that. Larry's got his opinion as well. One thing about America is we're entitled our own opinions, even when we vehemently disagree with each other," Daines said Sunday on Fox News.

"At the end of the day, an election is about two choices on a ballot. As somebody once said, 'don't compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative,'" Daines said, referencing one of Biden's favorite refrains. "Larry's running a great race, and he'll be running his campaign as he sees fit."