A Cleveland businessman whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when he was a child said Tuesday he'll campaign for the U.S. Senate seat that fellow Republican Rob Portman intends to leave next year.

Bernie Moreno's announcement said he is joining the race because he wants "to stop the socialist agenda, protect the gains made by President Donald J. Trump, and protect the American Dream.”

Moreno, 54, is a political newcomer who made a name for himself in the Cleveland area as a luxury car dealer before turning his focus two years ago to his interest in blockchain — a ledger for recording cybercurrency transactions — and his related technology company.

“I came from a country surrounded by the ideology of radicals like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who promised to give everyone all they needed and solve all their problems – just like Bernie Sanders and AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) are doing today,” Moreno said in his announcement video. “If we’re going to protect this country from the socialist left, and keep this precious idea built on the concept of freedom, then we need outsiders who back up their words with action.”

Portman said in January that he won’t seek reelection in 2022. Those seeking to succeed him are eager for an endorsement from Trump, who twice won Ohio’s presidential electors by more than 8 percentage points.

Among Republicans officially in the race are former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party leader Jane Timken, U.S. Army veteran and EMS pilot Michael Leipold and information technology staffing firm founder Mark Pukita.

Moreno was not always an ardent Trump supporter. In separate posts on Twitter from Dec. 8, 2015, Moreno called Trump Hillary Clinton's “best fundraiser and ally.”

He also wrote: “Listening to @realDonaldTrump is like watching a car accident that makes you sick, but you can stop looking.”

Campaign manager Parker Briden said Moreno, like other Republican candidates in the race, initially supported other 2016 presidential candidates and gave to Trump's campaign.

“He’s been vocal in defending the president from his ridiculous attackers and celebrating his tremendous accomplishments,” Briden said. “Just like President Donald J. Trump, Bernie’s a businessman and political outsider who wants to stop socialism, pass term limits and end the cancel culture.”

Democrats weighing a run for the open Senate seat include U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a 10-term representative from the blue-collar Youngstown area.

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Associated Press reporter Kantele Franko contributed to this report from Columbus.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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