It shouldn’t be this close in Ohio.
With one week to go until Election Day, an average of the latest public opinion polls in the Buckeye State indicates Republican Senate nominee JD Vance holding a razor-thin edge over longtime Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic nominee.
“It’s almost a coin flip right now,” veteran Ohio-based political scientist Paul Beck said.
The two candidates — who are running to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman in a race that’s among a handful across the nation that will likely determine whether Republicans win back the Senate majority in next week’s midterm elections — will take part Tuesday in a Fox News town hall co-moderated by anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum at 6 p.m. in Ohio’s capital city of Columbus.
Ohio was once a premiere battleground state. In the 2004 election, then-President George W. Bush’s victory in the state won him re-election, and former President Barack Obama narrowly carried the state by less than five points in 2008 and 2012.
But lately times have been tough in Ohio for Democrats. Former President Donald Trump captured the state by eight points in his 2016 White House victory and his 2020 re-election defeat. And Sen. Sherrod Brown’s 2018 re-election was the only statewide victory by a Democrat in Ohio in recent cycles.
Asked how he’s kept things close, Ryan told Fox News recently, “I’m talking economics, jobs, wages, pensions, growing the economy, manufacturing, taking on China — bread-and-butter issues. We’re staying away from the very polarizing issues, the culture wars that most people aren’t concerned with, and we’re focusing on their pocketbooks. And I think that’s what they want politicians to do regardless of which party you belong to.”
Also boosting Ryan is a barrage of TV ads during the summer months that bashed Vance over his years living in California, and the Democratic nominee dramatically outspent the former hedge fund executive and best-selling author who in May captured the GOP nomination thanks in part to Trump’s endorsement in a crowded and extremely combustible Republican primary.
“So, all those ads that we spent in the summer defined him, and he’s not going to be able to recover from that,” Ryan said.
But the ad spending disparity disappeared the past two months, with the Vance campaign and allied Republican groups flooding the airwaves.
“We’ve had a very specific plan to ramp up our messaging after Labor Day. We’ve done exactly that. We’ve raised the resources necessary to accomplish that,” Vance told Fox News a couple of weeks ago.
Ryan’s been spotlighting his Ohio roots and his strong support for the working class as he runs a populist style campaign in the high-profile battle against Vance. And he’s repeatedly showcased his policy differences with President Joe Biden on numerous issues, including border security and student debt relief.
“I’ve disagreed with Biden on the student loan [forgiveness plan]. I’ve disagreed with Biden on a lot of other issues, Title 42 and these other issues, been very clear,” Ryan emphasized during a sit-down interview with Fox News Digital in Niles, the small northeastern Ohio city where he was born and raised that sits just outside of Youngstown.
In a state hard hit by the opioid crisis, with the extremely powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl, illegally transported across the U.S.-Mexico border reaching Ohio, Ryan said he is disappointed that the president has yet to visit the southern border.
“I mean, yeah, I’d like to see him go down there. I think it is a huge issue,” Ryan said. “You know, we are recovering lots of drugs coming into the country but not nearly enough. I have a resolution to label fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction. And we need more Border Patrol.”
While Vance worked to coalesce Ohio’s Republican base after a bruising primary, Ryan repeatedly highlighted his support for some Trump policies.
“I’ve agreed with Trump on trade and on China. … When Trump renegotiated NAFTA. I was on the whip team in the House of Representatives to whip votes in support of the president’s renegotiation. … I supported his defense budgets because we do need a strong military to combat China and Russia,” Ryan told Fox News.
But Trump and Vance aren’t buying it.
At his rally in Youngstown with Vance in late September, Trump claimed that Ryan’s “pretending to be a moderate so he can get elected … he is not a moderate. He’s radical left.”
And Vance last week charged that Ryan “has been a rubber stamp for Joe Biden, and we don’t want that in Washington, D.C.”
“This guy is not the moderate that he pretends to be. He is not an independent voice in Washington, D.C.,” Vance claimed at a campaign event on Friday in Canton, Ohio. “He’s a guy who bends the knee to [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and does what he’s told. And if we give him a promotion to the Senate, which we’re not going to do, he’s going to do the exact same thing with [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer.”
But Ryan said he’s “been very clear on this. I know it’s frustrating for JD Vance because they want me to be Bernie Sanders, or they want me to be the Squad and AOC and all that stuff. I’m not, and the record is very, very clear on that.”
And Ryan said he’s one of the top bipartisan members of the House and vowed, “I will be that way when I’m in the Senate.”
Ryan, on Halloween, also argued that a Vance victory would be more of a trick than a treat for Ohio voters.
“If JD Vance wins, Senate Republicans would get to work banning gay marriage, passing a national abortion ban, and cutting Social Security and Medicare. That’s what’s REALLY scary this Halloween,” the congressman tweeted.
Ryan’s enjoyed a clear fundraising advantage over Vance in the general election race. But Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, pointed to the GOP’s upper hand when it comes to voter registration and said that “the fundamentals seem to suggest that the Republicans have an advantage.”
Beck said that “Ryan has been exactly the candidate the Democrats needed if they were going to win the Senate race in Ohio. It may not be enough. But he is the kind of person who is well positioned both in terms of his track record and what he’s saying during the campaign.”