Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Moreno has risen to be the top Republican primary candidate vying to boot Democrat Sherrod Brown. 

Moreno recently picked up a key endorsement from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who encouraged Republicans to unite in support of the entrepreneur and “America-first conservative” in the GOP primary race that still also includes Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and state Sen. Matt Dolan. 

“I am pleased to announce my endorsement of Bernie Moreno for the United States Senate. Bernie is a winner and the kind of candidate that we need to win this November to take back the Senate,” Noem said in a statement on Thursday. “I’ve known Bernie for over 10 years, and I’ve always been impressed by his conservative values and by his ability to get things done. Those are two qualities that we desperately need in the U.S. Senate.”

“Ohio deserves better than the radical liberal views of career politician Sherrod Brown. He’ll be tough to beat, so it’s crucial that we unite behind Bernie now,” she added. 

OHIO REPUBLICAN SENATE CANDIDATES CLASH OVER BORDER SECURITY, DRONE STRIKES IN MEXICO

Early voting starts on Feb. 2 in the Ohio Republican primary scheduled for March 19. 

A nod to Moreno’s growing strength in the primary contest, Brown has begun targeting Moreno, deeming him “Trump’s hand-picked candidate.” Brown, one of two Democratic incumbents up for reelection this year in the state Trump won in 2016 and 2020, is considered a key target for Republicans hoping to reclaim the Senate majority in November, The Hill noted. 

Moreno – who was endorsed by former President Trump in December – clashed with LaRose and Dolan on the border issue during last week’s Republican primary debate, and the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm notably has not yet prioritized funding for one of the three primary candidates as the strongest to go up against Brown. 

VULNERABLE DEM SENATOR PROMOTES TIKTOK ACCOUNT AFTER SAYING HE HAD ‘SERIOUS CONCERNS’ ABOUT CCP TIES

At an event for the conservative-leaning think tank The Ripon Society last week, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said a GOP victory against Brown cannot be taken for granted because the incumbent Democrat has demonstrated he knows “how to win” in a red-leaning state. “But we think that Matt Dolan, Bernie Moreno and Frank LaRose are all capable of beating Sherrod Brown,” Daines said. “We will have a primary … in March, and we’ll be off to the general election.”

After Trump threw his support behind him, Moreno has picked up other key endorsements from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., yet GOP strategists who spoke with The Hill said Moreno should not consider the nomination yet in the bag and must spend some of his own money to effectively communicate those endorsements to Ohio voters. 

His competitors have enjoyed more name recognition, given LaRose holds statewide office and Dolan, who has served in the state Senate since 2017, unsuccessfully ran in the primary for Sen. JD Vance’s seat in 2022 and was the first to enter the race to challenge Brown.