After a tense exchange on the economy, the debate between Democratic candidate Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance in Ohio’s closer-than-expected Senate contest descended into an acrimonious and, at times, personal clash.
Given the state’s Republican lean and the fact that former President Donald Trump easily won it twice, Republicans were surprised to see how much they had to spend on this race. While difficult Senate races are being fought in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Nevada, this seat is rated as “Lean Republican” by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.
Trump’s underfunded GOP nominee made it through the primary, but Ryan’s campaign to replace retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman has proven to be a formidable opponent. Acrimony on Monday night drove home the importance of the current situation for both contenders.
In the next weeks, millions of dollars will be spent on negative advertising targeting Congressman Paul Ryan, putting pressure on the Democrats’ campaign in the red-leaning state. After a rocky summer, Republican Vance is back on solid ground by capitalizing on the state’s inherent political lean and attacking his Democratic opponent for pretending to be moderate.
At a debate in which both candidates were unafraid to attack one another (Ryan called Vance an “a** kisser,” while Vance compared Ryan to a kid), it was evident that they both believed they had time to gain support before the election.
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Here are things that we can learn from Ohio’s first senate debate:
A Major Spark Came From the Topic of Abortion
Since the Supreme Court struck down federal abortion laws, the issue has become a central one in political campaigns around the country, and the Ohio Senate race is no exception.
In Monday’s debate, Ryan tried to position himself as the issue’s moderate by saying he supported “going back to Roe v. Wade” and advocating for “some moderation on this subject.” He then turned the conversation toward Republicans, saying that their push for harsher abortion legislation was “the largest government overreach in the history of our lifetime.”
As a response, Vance, who described himself as “pro-life” but “always believed in reasonable exceptions,” delivered one of the night’s most scathing lines, seemingly blaming Ryan for the rape of the 10-year-old Ohio girl who sought an abortion in neighboring Indiana by noting that she was allegedly raped by an undocumented immigrant and that Ryan had voted against funding for a border wall.
“If you had done your job, she would have never been raped in the first place,” Vance said, turning to Ryan. “Do your job on border security, don’t lecture me about opinions I don’t actually have.”
Later in the debate, Ryan said he supported walls along the US-Mexico border where it made sense but not one wall from “sea to shining sea.”
Ryan Wants Out of the Democratic Party
Throughout the discussion, Ryan, as he has on the campaign trail and in paid advertising, highlighted the times he has broken with his own party and supported Trump on trade.
When asked if President Joe Biden is to blame for the country’s rising inflation rate, Ryan responded, “I think everybody is to blame.” When asked if the vice president is correct when she says the border is secure, he answered, “Kamala Harris is absolutely wrong on that.”
Ryan then used this line of reasoning to attack his opponent, saying that he “can’t stand up to anyone” since the Republican nominee didn’t defend his “dignity” when former President Bush stripped it from him by saying that Vance was “kissing my a**” to get him to campaign for Trump.
Ryan remarked, “He was dubbed an ass kisser by the past President,” and then he added, “Ohio needs an a**-kicker, not an a** kisser.”
As it turned out, Vance’s response was just in time. Continuing on the theme of upcoming festivities, he said, “Tim Ryan has put on a costume where he pretends to be reasonably moderate.”
Moreover, the Republican did not try to differentiate himself from Trump, the party’s nominee for president. Vance advised letting “the criminal inquiry play out” on the mismanagement of secret data housed at Mar-a-Lago and lamented the focus on earlier scandals involving the former President when asked if Trump had done anything that concerned him.
Ryan is Depicted by Vance As a Washingtonian Sycophant
At the end of the debate, Vance compared Ryan’s successful bid for Congress to his own decision, twenty years earlier, to join the Marines.
“I think everybody is to blame,” Ryan said when asked if President Joe Biden is to blame for rising inflation. “Kamala Harris is absolutely wrong on that,” he added when asked if the vice president was correct when she said the border was secure.
The Republican candidate, Vance, has positioned the race between himself and the Democrat, Ryan, as a referendum on “failed leadership” in Washington. This has helped Vance portray himself as an outsider in the political system, while Ryan is seen as a career politician.
Vance said of Ryan, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, “He has been failing at his basic job for 20 years.” “Speaks with great pomp and circumstance but fails to deliver on the ground.”
Ryan countered, “I’m not going to apologize for spending 20 years slaving away to try to improve one of the toughest economically stricken regions of Ohio,” but Vance’s approach was evident.
By saying, “Ohioans deserve certain things from their federal leadership,” Vance summed up his entire campaign. They should be able to go to the supermarket and not be hungry because of money worries. They should have streets that are safe for pedestrians to use. They should have a nation with borders.
Significant Differences in Candidate Positions On International Issues
Disagreements on international affairs became one of the night’s most contentious issues.
Ryan said an “aggressive response” was necessary if Russia used nuclear weapons, but he added, “I don’t think we’re at that place where (Russian President) Vladimir Putin will.”
Then, Ryan attempted to shift the focus back on Vance by bringing up the fact that the Republican has previously stated that he doesn’t “actually care what happens to Ukraine.”
Ryan, referencing Ohio’s sizable Ukrainian community, stated, “J.D. Vance would let Putin roll right through Ukraine.” This is an area where J.D. Vance falls short.
But Vance didn’t back down, mocking Ryan for stating nuclear weapons would require an “aggressive response” and said, “The answer is that no one knows how we would respond.”
“What does that even mean?” Should we start a nuclear war as a result of this? A member of the “bipartisan foreign policy establishment,” as Vance put it, is what Ryan is accused of becoming.
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