CLEVELAND (WCMH) – Ohio’s U.S. Senate candidates – Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance – traded barbs and sometimes responded to each other’s accusations Monday during a debate shown on NBC4.

Ryan, who represents Ohio’s 13th U.S. House district, lambasted Vance as a “Silicon Valley vulture capitalist” with extremist beliefs. Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author from Middletown, derided Ryan’s staunch alignment with Democratic leadership during his 20-year career in Washington.

“I think there were no major gaps here by either candidate, and I think they both did what they wanted to do,” Democratic strategist Dale Butland said. “In that sense, I think it was a good debate, and I think the people who watched it came out the better for it.”

The majority of independent polling conducted after Ohio’s May primary – considered by polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight to be nonpartisan and unaffiliated with campaigns – has positioned Vance and Ryan in a statistical dead heat.

“The race to replace retiring Republican Senator Rob Portman continues to poll surprisingly close considering the state’s tilt to the right in recent years,” Dr. Thomas Sutton, director of Baldwin Wallace University’s Community Research Institute said recently. “The candidates are in a statistical tie with leaners added in.”

Central Ohio strategists weigh in

At a roundtable with NBC4 after the hour-long debate, Dale Butland, a Democrat, and Terry Casey, a Republican, broke down the candidates’ performances.

Although Ryan frequently described Vance’s campaign chockfull of extremist policies, Casey said Vance had detailed responses to moderators’ questions that suggested otherwise.

“J.D. provides that he isn’t the extremist that some people want to paint him as, and I think throughout the debate he drove home a point,” Casey said. “We’ll see how important it is to voters that Tim Ryan’s got a 20-year record in Congress, and the point he was making is he had 20 years to make a difference, and he hasn’t really done that.”

Butland, however, agreed with Ryan, citing Vance’s support for a national 15-week abortion ban or opposition to reaffirming federal protections to same-sex married couples.

“He had to expose Vance, not just for being the fraud and phony that he is, but also for being a dangerous extremist,” Butland said.

The ultimate question that voters must answer on Nov. 8, Casey said, is: “Has the President and the Democratic Party done the job to merit another two years? Does Tim Ryan deserve a promotion?”

Inflation: Energy, supply chains and China

Pocketbook issues are the No. 1 concern among Ohio voters with 71% of respondents to a Baldwin Wallace University poll saying the economy is of “high importance” as they determine who to vote for on Nov. 8.

While Vance agreed that some federal dollars, like the American Rescue Plan and Consolidated Appropriations acts, are well-spent, the Biden Administration’s spending has wasted trillions of dollars “that we just don’t have.”

“I believe people deserve to go to the grocery store without breaking the bank,” Vance said. “Tim Ryan has voted with these policies 100% of the time. Every single time he gets a chance to stand up for Ohio, he bends the knee to his own party.”

But Ryan said some of the Biden Administration’s policies – like the Inflation Reduction and CHIPS acts, both of which he supported – will bring hundreds of thousands of jobs to the state and relieve economic hardship faced by Ohioans struggling to make ends meet.

Inflation is hitting Americans’ pocketbooks, Ryan said, largely because many of the country’s supply chains have wound up in China, bringing the jobs that accompany them along for the ride.

“I have for my entire career supported tariffs on China — one of my first bills was to penalize China for manipulating their currency,” Ryan said. “I worked to get tariffs on China’s steel coming in that led to a billion-dollar investment in the Youngstown Steel Mill.”

While Ryan touted his support for natural gas production to free up energy supply in the U.S. and subsequently reduce inflation, Vance attacked his opponent for standing against fracking.

“Tim Ryan, when he ran for president, support banning fracking, both on public lands and generally speaking,” Vance said. “That crushes the Ohio energy sector and that crushes manufacturers, and that’s why they’re taking their jobs to China.”

Abortion: 10-year-old rape victim, national abortion ban

Although inflation remains at the top of most Ohio voters’ minds, abortion follows closely behind, with 51% of respondents in a Baldwin Wallace University end-of-September poll saying the overturn of Roe v. Wade is of “high importance” as they prepare to vote.

Ohioans are split 50-50 when it comes to supporting current law that bans abortion once fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically around the sixth week of pregnancy, with no exception for rape or incest. according to an Emerson College poll sponsored by NBC4. 

If elected, candidates were asked whether they would back an abortion ban at the national level, specifically a 15-week prohibition proposed by South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham.

“Some minimum national standard is totally fine with me,” Vance said, touting his long-time, pro-life stance. “We’re talking about 5-month-old babies, fully-formed babies who can feel pain. No civilized country in the world allows elective abortion that late in pregnancy. I don’t think the United States should be an exception.” 

Ryan called for the codification of Roe v. Wade into federal and state law, calling the Supreme Court’s elimination of the 50-year constitutional right to abortion “the largest government overreach in the history of our lifetime.”

Ryan lambasted Ohio’s six-week abortion ban that caused a 10-year-old rape victim, who was six weeks pregnant at the time, to travel to Indiana for the procedure.  

“If you get raped, J.D. Vance and others are going to say you have to have that pregnancy,” Ryan said. “State-mandated pregnancies for a rape victim? That is so far out of the mainstream it’s not even funny.”

Watch the full debate below.