Ohio Senate candidates debate as polls show tight race

Elections 2022

Candidates for Ohio Senate J.D. Vance and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)
Associated Press/Francois Mori

CLEVELAND (NewsNation) — Ohio Senate candidates Rep. Tim Ryan (D) and J.D. Vance (R) faced off in their first debate as polls show an increasingly narrow race in a state that has been considered reliably red in recent years.  

Ryan and Vance debated Monday in Cleveland. NewsNation streamed the debate live online as part of its ongoing coverage of Decision 2022 midterm election coverage.

While Republicans were seen as having the advantage in Ohio, a number of recent polls show Ryan, a 10-term U.S. representative, closing the gap with Vance, a venture capitalist and author of “Hillbilly Elegy.” A Marist Poll released on Wednesday showed Vance leading Ryan 46 percent to 45 percent, while a Spectrum News-Sienna College survey released last week showed Ryan leading Vance 46 to 43 percent. 

With the race tight and just a month until Election Day, Monday’s hours-long debate will be an opportunity for both candidates to stand out — or land a lasting blow. 

The debated devolved quickly into attacks, with the candidates for Ohio’s open U.S. Senate seat accusing each other of being responsible for job losses and putting party loyalty ahead of voters’ needs.

Vance said Ryan had supported policies as a congressman that led to a 10-year-old girl in Ohio being raped. Ryan said Vance had started a “fake nonprofit” to help people overcome addiction issues. The two accused each other of being beholden to their party, with Ryan calling Vance an “a— kisser” to former President Donald Trump at a recent rally and Vance saying Ryan’s 100% voting record with President Joe Biden means he’s not the reasonable moderate he says he is.

On the Democratic side, Ryan has flexed his fundraising and spending muscle throughout the course of the campaign. Ryan’s campaign announced on Thursday that it raised a whopping $17.2 million in the third quarter, largely from small donors. The Democrat’s campaign did not say how much money he had in the bank, but his most recent federal filing from July showed him with just under $3.6 million on hand, suggesting a high burn rate. 

The race for the Buckeye State’s Senate seat on Capitol Hill was always going to be a steep climb for Democrats given the state’s Republican tilt. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as “lean Republican.” Former President Donald Trump handily won the state by 8 points in 2016 and 2020. 

Democrats say they are “cautiously optimistic” about the race, crediting what they say is Ryan’s brand and well-run campaign. 

Much of the campaign has been defined by Ryan and Vance working to paint the other as out of touch with Ohio. 

Last month, Ryan’s campaign rolled out a six-figure ad buy on Facebook and Instagram referring to Vance as a “Silicon Valley J.D.” going up against “Politician J.D.” Just days later, the Vance campaign rolled out an item titled “Two Tims,” juxtaposing what it called “TV Tim” and “DC Tim.” 

Ryan, who represents constituents who voted for Trump, has long walked a line between Washington’s Democratic establishment and appealing to economic populists. Ryan, much like Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s only statewide election Democrat, has been critical of jobs being shipped overseas to China from parts of the country like the industrial Midwest. 

Republicans say they are zeroing in on debunking that narrative about the Ohio congressman. 

“He’s clearly tried to paint a picture of himself as nonpartisan, certainly not a member of the rank-and-file Democratic Party, and our efforts have largely been to counteract that and demonstrate to voters that he has voted for all of these things that they hate,” said the Republican operative. 

The Vance campaign also indicated it would focus in on that point Monday.

“The upcoming debates will force Tim Ryan to answer for the two-faced persona he has been using to trick Ohio voters his entire campaign,” Luke Schroeder, Vance campaign spokesman, said.

However, Democrats are using a similar strategy with Vance, seeking to paint him as a political opportunist and hypocrite. 

“He’s clearly tried to paint a picture of himself as nonpartisan, certainly not a member of the rank-and-file Democratic Party, and our efforts have largely been to counteract that and demonstrate to voters that he has voted for all of these things that they hate,” said the Republican operative. 

The Vance campaign also indicated it would focus in on that point Monday.

“The upcoming debates will force Tim Ryan to answer for the two faced persona he has been using to trick Ohio voters his entire campaign,” Luke Schroeder, Vance campaign spokesman, said.

However, Democrats are using a similar strategy with Vance, seeking to paint him as a political opportunist and hypocrite. 

Ultimately, it remains to be seen how much the Monday night forum will move the needle in the contest. 

The Hill and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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