J.D. Vance, Tim Ryan face off in debate as early voting nears
Tim Ryan and J.D. Vance got their first chance to face off Monday in a statewide televised debate just days before early voting starts — and in an election the GOP never expected to be this close.
The Ohio Senate candidates, dressed in nearly matching navy-blue suits and red ties, traded rehearsed zingers and pivoted to their desired talking points as they were asked questions on abortion, law enforcement, national defense and loyalty to their own parties.
Ryan went after Vance as an extremist whose favored policies represent the fringe of the Republican Party. Vance said Ryan, a congressman, was a 20-year politician with nothing to show for it, and who has not sufficiently pushed back on the Democrats’ agenda.
While retiring Sen. Rob Portman — who has endorsed Vance in the general election — is seen as one of the Senate’s moderate Republicans, a majority of the state’s voters favor Donald Trump, who won there in 2020 by 8 percentage points. Vance, who was endorsed by Trump this spring in a bruising Republican primary, is running behind GOP Gov. Mike DeWine in support this fall.
With both men largely remaining civil and showing restraint in their pushbacks, the debate itself is unlikely to significantly move the needle for either candidate.
The campaigns and their allied political groups, however, sent no fewer than 28 press releases during and after the hour-long debate, a sign of the fiercely close nature of the race. The Ohio Senate race is one that the GOP earlier this election cycle felt confident would be a solid victory, but it has remained highly competitive, despite being crucial to Republicans’ chances of retaking the Senate.
“I believe we’ve gone in a fundamentally bad direction over the last couple of years,” Vance said during the debate, blaming inflation on unrestricted federal spending. “I think people deserve to go to the grocery store without completely breaking the bank. Tim Ryan has voted with these policies 100 percent of the time. Every single time he gets an opportunity to stand up for Ohioans, he chooses to bend the knee to his own party.”
Ryan, who throughout the campaign has tried to put daylight between him and national Democrats, most recently saying President Joe Biden should not seek reelection, emphasized the bipartisan support behind job-creating legislation like the infrastructure bill, which Portman spearheaded and Vance opposes, and the CHIPS Act.
While Ryan had the airwaves largely to himself this summer — and has put significant money behind portraying himself as a moderate — Vance has struggled to gain a commanding lead in the race, which remains neck and neck, according to publicly available polling.
Just before the start of the Nexstar debate in Cleveland, which aired on local news stations statewide, Vance’s campaign sent a fundraising text message calling him “the most vulnerable Senate candidate.”
Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is spending $28 million to support Vance — money the group had initially intended to spend on Republican pickup opportunities, rather than defending a state that has become increasingly red.
Among the barbs, Ryan attacked Vance for purporting to have launched a charity to target the opioid crisis, while failing to spend significant resources doing so. Vance hit Ryan for accepting roughly $25,000 from pharmaceutical companies last quarter, and called it “shameful” for Ryan to broach the topic of Vance not doing enough to address the problem, due to his on mother’s longtime struggle with pills.
And the Democratic congressman highlighted Vance’s support from Republicans he called “dangerous,” suggesting that most Americans were “exhausted” by extremism.
Vance “runs around with Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida who wants to ban books,” Ryan said. “You’re running around with Lindsey Graham, who wants a national abortion ban. You’re running around with Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is the absolute loneliest politician in America.”
Referencing comments Trump made during a recent in Ohio, Ryan taunted Vance for being “called an ass-kisser by the former president.”
Early voting begins in Ohio on Wednesday. A second debate in Youngstown, which won’t air statewide, is set to take place next week.
In the remaining four weeks until Election Day, Republicans are on track to drastically outspend Ryan, whose outside Democratic support pales compared to the help Vance is receiving. Of the $15 million in GOP ads reserved for the remaining month, $13.5 million are from SLF. Democrats, meanwhile, have just $5 million booked, nearly all from Ryan’s campaign.
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