COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohioans will determine in November whether a yoga enthusiast who touted his frequent Fox News appearances has what it takes to defeat a Trump-backed venture capitalist with ties to Appalachia.
While some polling and campaign finance figures indicate a path to victory for Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, 49, others remain steadfast in the ability of the Republican outsider J.D. Vance, 37, to secure a seat in the U.S. Senate.
“I think it’s going to be a very competitive race,” said Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University. “And Ryan is the kind of candidate who could win that race.”
Current ‘one-time snapshot’ polls give Ryan a slight lead
At the end of April, Vance surpassed Ryan by about 1% of the vote at the end of April in an analysis from the U.S. polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight, ending a steady plateau of polling that positioned Ryan, from the Mahoning Valley, in the lead.
The roles reversed in early July, however, and as of July 14, Ryan once again became FiveThirtyEight’s leading candidate, outpacing Vance, a Middletown native, by two points with 44.8% of the vote.
Like most elections, voters should take the poll results with a grain of salt, Beck said.
“It may not last, you know, the polls are sort of one-time snapshots of what the electorate may be thinking,” Beck said. “But of course, a lot of things can intervene between now and November to change that around.”
‘It’s the economy, stupid:’ Ryan’s ties to party in power could backfire
One of Ryan’s attributes that could hurt him the most in November, according to attorney and Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis, is simply his membership in the Democratic party and the “tanking” economy it has overseen.
Ryan, a 10-term U.S. representative, first for Ohio’s 17th House District and later for Ohio’s 13th, belongs to a party that’s presided over record levels of inflation – an issue that 70% of Americans listed as the top problem facing the U.S. in a Pew Research Center survey conducted from late April to early May.
“It’s all about the economy; in fact, I think the phrase they used was, ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’” Gonidakis said. “And that indeed is true. President Clinton taught us that, taught us as Republicans that very well. People vote based on their pocketbook. People vote on kitchen table issues.”
Ryan appeared to distance himself from President Joe Biden by skipping his visit to Cleveland in July. Biden’s 39% presidential approval rating at this point in his term is lower than any U.S. president since the end of World War II, according to a July 14 FiveThirtyEight analysis.
“(When) the average voter on the streets sees Tim Ryan, they see the Democrats,” Gonidakis said. “And then what do they do? Historically, they go and vote for the other party because of the situation we find ourselves in.”
Could Fox News cameos boost Ryan’s odds?
Trump’s highly coveted endorsement of Vance propelled the Hillbilly Elegy author to victory in May’s Republican primary, and it could present challenges for Ryan in November.
Trump won Ohio by eight percentage points in 2016 and 2020, Beck said. Instead of drawing a hard and fast line between himself and the former firebrand president admired by many Ohioans, Beck said Ryan appears to be appealing to moderate and conservative voters.
“He is not the mainstream Democrat that one might think of, and he has consciously positioned himself that way with the feeling that he may be able to draw voters away from Trump, away from J.D. Vance,” Beck said.
In one of Ryan’s latest campaign ads, the congressman touted his appearances on Fox News, sharing segments where hosts called him “moderate,” “tough on China” and “hanging out in the middle like most of us are.”
“You don’t have to take it from me: even Fox News will tell you I’ll always put Ohio first,” Ryan said in a social media post.
Appealing to the other side of the aisle seems to be working for Ryan, according to Desiree Tims, executive director of the progressive advocacy group Innovation Ohio, who found his Fox News ad to be an effective strategy.
Tims said that poll after poll shows Ryan is either competitive with or ahead of Vance. His campaign finance reports indicate he is winning in the money game, too. According to The Hill, Ryan raised $9.1 million in his second-quarter fundraising efforts, far outpacing Vance’s $2.3 million during the same period.
“Tim Ryan is raising the money, and J.D. Vance is not. I think he really expected to lean on billionaires from Silicon Valley,” she said. “And we see that Tim Ryan is raising the money from everyday people here across the state. People are chipping in and people are rejecting what J.D. Vance has to offer.”
Vance’s ‘extremism’ could give Ryan a leg up, Tims said
A Trump endorsement in Vance’s back pocket — and his support for what Tims called extremist policies — could come back to bite him, she said.
The Ohio Democratic Party slammed Vance for embracing — like the gunman who killed 10 people in a predominately Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York — the Great Replacement Theory. It’s a concept the Southern Poverty Law Center called a “racist conspiracy narrative” that falsely contends there is a plot to dilute the power of white voters by flooding the U.S. with immigrants.
Tims also pointed to his allyship with Trump, who is back in the spotlight as U.S. Senators present his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“I don’t think the vast majority of Ohioans are far-right and extreme and want to see the Capitol walls torn down, police officers killed,” she said. “And what we saw was absolutely horrific and embarrassing on the international stage. It was an embarrassment, and that’s not what our country stands for.”
Abortion could drive Democrats to the polls
One issue that could entice Ohioans to vote Democratic in November, Beck said, is abortion.
A poll commissioned by USA Today/Suffolk University prior to the overturn of Roe v. Wade found that 53.4% of Ohioans want state lawmakers to protect abortion rights, with 39.2% in favor of abortion restrictions and the remaining respondents either undecided or declining to answer.
Support for abortion rights is even higher on the national level, with 57% of adults disapproving of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a July 15 Pew Research Center report.
“Republicans who are running for office or beyond are going to find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion when it comes to that kind of issue,” Beck said.
Although Ryan has consistently affirmed his support for abortion rights during his U.S. Senate campaign, the congressman – who was once endorsed by Ohio Right to Life – has not always supported a woman’s right to choose, Gonidakis said.
A Catholic, Ryan announced his switch to pro-choice in 2015 – an inconsistency in his record that Gonidakis said could seem suspicious to anti-abortion and abortion-rights advocates alike.
“That should raise a red flag for all pro-lifers, obviously, but also pro-choicers that on any given moment, Tim Ryan can change his opinion,” he said.
While Beck and Tims alike said Ryan has a shot in November, Gonidakis is not convinced he will win, regardless of his attempts to distance himself from his own party.
“You can’t run away from who the President of the United States is, no matter what you say in a TV ad or what you say on the stump speech or even on Fox News,” Gonidakis said.