Ohio Senate Race: Why Tim Ryan is still a contender against JD Vance

Ohio was once the fulcrum of American politics. It was the pivotal swing state for most of the first two decades of the 21st century. John Kerry’s small loss there in 2004 prompted George W. Bush’s re-election. In 2012, Fox News viewers watched stunned as the state called for Barack Obama, dooming challenger Mitt Romney’s hopes.

After Donald Trump won it twice by eight points, his swing state status was questioned. The only remaining Democrat elected statewide is Senator Sherrod Brown to three terms, while Republicans, aided by precise Gerrymanders, have maintained an iron grip on the state legislature and congressional delegation.

In recent months, however, the state’s Senate race has captured the imagination of national Democrats. The Democratic nominee, 10-term member of Congress, Tim Ryan, has mounted a surprisingly strong race against Republican nominee, Trump-backed author JD Vance, and has kept the race close in public polls. Ryan enjoyed a strong summer as Democrats rose in the national polls and Vance was off the airwaves recovering from a brutal primary. Currently FiveThirtyEight gives Ryan a one in four chance of winning while the old rep is whining the lack of investment from national democrats. Does Ryan have a chance at red? Or is he a lost hope in a Republican state in a Republican leaning year?

What Ryan has for him

First and foremost, the race is close. Ohio Polls Consistently Have Ryan within the margin of error against Vance. As Justin Barasky, a top strategist on the Ryan campaign, told cafemadrid, “It’s not like there’s a ton of polls showing Vance in the 50s, and there’s no question that Tim has to convince people who are on [Republican incumbent Mike] DeWine for Governor and [has] he clearly did.”

Most observers recognize that Ryan has conducted a strong campaign. Franklin County recorder and former congressional candidate Danny O’Connor praised Ryan’s chops on the campaign trail and his effective pitch to voters as a moderate populist in favor of a more protectionist trade policy. “If he wants to break through in a state with so many media markets, you have to be a convincing candidate. He put in the work, has a message and that message moves voters.”

O’Connor and Barasky both poked fun at Vance’s campaign, arguing that the author and venture capitalist had failed to connect with voters; they both noted how reliant the Ohio Republican was on outside funding from groups like the Senate Leadership Fund, a Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC. Encouraged by MSNBC appearances and a small dollar fire hose encouraged by viral Twitter clips (such as the recent scripted moment in a debate where he told Vance that “you kiss [Trump’s] ass”), Ryan has raised nearly $40 million. That’s a dazzling total for a Senate midterm campaign, trailing only Democrat John Fetterman in Pennsylvania among the 2022 Senate candidates.

O’Connor also expressed skepticism about how Republican Ohio is. “I think it’s more Trumpy,” he said. He pointed out that although Trump won the state twice, “normal Republicans have never really won it.” Notably, he noted that Mike DeWine won the election by only 3 percent in 2018, albeit in a Democratic wave year, when Brown won re-election by 7 percent.

Vance has also stumbled as a prime candidate. National Republicans have offended about the amount of outside money they had to spend in the state to save him after a long, ugly and expensive primary. However, Democrats and Republicans agree that he was still a better bet for the GOP than Josh Mandel, the former state treasurer who finished second in the primary. Ryan, on the other hand, climbed to the Democratic nomination and faced no serious opposition.

Where Ryan encounters the harsh political reality

For Luke Thompson, who leads the pro-Vance Protect Ohio Values ​​super PAC, the race comes down to two numbers: 39 and 45. “Thirty-nine is about where Joe Biden’s endorsement is in the state, and 45 is where Tim Ryan is stranded in neutral in all public opinion polls.”

Thompson compared the campaign to a Senate race in Iowa eight years ago. Dan-Rep. Bruce Braley was locked in a tight race against then-state Senator Joni Ernst. The polls showed a tight race, but Braley never showed he got 50 percent. On Election Day, undecided voters broke overwhelmingly for the relatively unknown over the incumbent Democrat and Ernst won 9.

Thompson and other Ohio Republicans who spoke to cafemadrid also rejected the idea that Ryan’s campaign had been maximally effective. A Vance campaign adviser, who was given anonymity to speak freely about the campaign, argued that Ryan’s attempts to portray himself as a pragmatic moderate did not match his voting record in Congress, where he voted as a party-line Democrat. Ryan also embraced much more progressive rhetoric during his failed 2020 presidential campaign on issues like criminal justice.

Vance’s advisor argued that strategy was doomed to fail once it was contested on the air, in advertisements and messages showing that Ohio voters saw that he was making laws like a typical Democrat, and that no amount of extra outside spending was much would make a difference at this point. point. He also noted that Vance had shifted from message to message during his campaign and seemed hesitant to commit himself fully to running a race that would appeal to suburban voters leaning toward Democrats, or to the workers’ voters. chasing after who left in the Trump era.

And despite the amount of money Ryan had raised, the Ohio Republican had nearly $2 million more on hand by the end of September.

None of that means anyone thinks Ohio was now unwinnable for the Democrats, even if it shifted to the right. But Thompson noted that in the swing state hierarchy, Ohio was “redder than North Carolina and maybe even redder than Florida.”

By any conventional standard, Ryan is the underdog

There is little reason to believe that there will be any change this year in the historical pattern of opposition to the party in power in midterm elections. Democrats have four incumbents facing tough re-elections in states that Joe Biden won (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire) and two more Democrats running for Republican-occupied Senate seats in Biden-won states (Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). ). In addition, there is the open Senate race in North Carolina, a state with a Democratic governor, where Trump won by only 1.5 percent in 2020.

Republicans are relatively confident as voters focus more on the economy and rising inflation. As Vance’s adviser noted, “the abortion issue peaked a few weeks ago” and isn’t as powerful an issue in favor of Democrats at home as it was over the summer. There was a sense that Ryan had hit his ceiling in the polls.

O’Connor was still convinced that Ryan was in good shape as “a classic retail politician,” unlike Vance, who was running for the first time. He thought Ryan could appeal to the pragmatic slant of voters in a state where many would split their ticket. “Ohioans like people who put the ball in the end zone,” he said.

But in a conservatively oriented state like Ohio, that probably doesn’t matter: The recent swing to the right and electoral demographics mean every Republican has an edge.


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