YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Representative Tim Ryan (D) and venture capitalist J.D. Vance (R) squared off Monday night in their final debate before the midterm election. The hour-long debate was marked by personal insults flying between the candidates, who each tried to paint the other as subservient to their national parties.
The seat Ryan and Vance are competing for was left vacant by retiring Senator Rob Portman (R), who has endorsed Vance to replace him. According to polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight, Vance currently has a slight edge. According to the site, Vance was up 0.2% on Sunday (before the debate) and up 0.6% Wednesday.
The night opened with a question about inflation, which quickly veered into what became a theme of the night: personal attacks on the other candidate. Both accused the other of allegiance to national party leadership over the Ohioans they would be representing. Ryan accused Vance of “kissing Trump’s ass” and taking large sums of money from influential conservatives, including billionaire Peter Thiel. Vance tied Ryan to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at every opportunity, including parroting a clip he has used in campaign ads of Ryan saying “I love Nancy Pelosi.”
Ryan countered this, explaining that he only said this right before announcing he was running against her for speaker of the house. He then turned the question back on Vance: “If you want to run against Nancy Pelosi, move back to San Francisco and run against Nancy Pelosi. You’re running against me.”
Abortion has been a critical issue in this year’s midterm elections since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June. Ryan said he supports codifying Roe, though he acknowledged that if Republicans retake control of the House and Senate, this would be impossible. He emphasized that in this case he would do everything he could to resist a nation-wide abortion ban like the 15-week ban proposed by Senator Lindsey Graham, which he called “the largest government overreach in the history of our lifetimes.” Directly attacking Vance, he said: “This is not a guy who’s ready to protect the rights of women.”
Vance said he thought abortion should be permitted in some cases, like in the viral story of the 10-year-old girl in Ohio who had to travel to Indiana to get an abortion earlier this year. He did not clarify exactly what these cases might be, arguing that it would be impossible to predict every possible circumstance.
“You cannot say with total confidence what every single exception in every single case is going to be,” he said. He further voiced support for Graham’s proposal, saying, “If you can’t support legislation like that, you are making the United States the most barbaric, pro-abortion regime anywhere in the entire world.” Abortion is legal in many countries, including up to the 20th week of pregnancy in Canada and up to the 24th week in Great Britain.
Vance, who in last week’s debate called rape “inconvenient,” this week attributed the ten-year-old girl’s assualt to what he described as “the open southern border,” which he blamed on Ryan and Democratic leadership. “She would never have been raped in the first place if Tim Ryan had done his job on border security,” he said. He continued, postulating that this border policy has increased both crime rates in Ohio and increased the flow of fentanyl into the US, leading to an increase in overdose deaths. In 2020, Ohio ranked fourth in the country for per capita drug overdose deaths.
Ryan also argued for tougher security at the southern border. “I disagree with President Biden when he’s talking about relaxing some of the regulations down on the border — completely disagree with that,” he said. Though they agreed on the principle, they disagreed on the specifics: Vance supports former President Donald Trump’s vision of a wall at the southern border, while Ryan focused on technological advancements that he said could increase security.
On the subject of the January 6th Committee, which last week voted unanimously to subpoena former President Trump, Ryan said he would like to see Trump testify, and he cast the insurrection as a violent attack on American democracy. Vance, on the other hand, said it’s a distraction from the real problems facing Americans.
Ryan threw back that Americans can “walk and chew gum at the same time,” meaning they can investigate the insurrection while also addressing other issues, including the economy.
Vance took the opportunity to point out that he has the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police and criticized Ryan, calling him soft on crime. He said that Ryan betrayed Ohioans and Ohio policy in summer 2020, when he called for reforms including ending cash bail in the midst of the protests following the death of George Floyd.
The climax of the debate turned to the “great replacement” theory, the false theory that liberal elites are conspiring to replace white voters with minorities, largely through immigration. This conspiracy theory motivated the attacker in the Buffalo shootings earlier this year. Ryan accused Vance (who has praised Alex Jones, one of the theory’s notable advocates) of supporting the theory. Vance fired back, saying he is not a racist, and that when he is accused of this it leads to his children (who are biracial) being attacked online.
In his closing statement, Vance argued that Ryan has had his turn and that Ohioans deserve new leaders. “My simple argument is this: that Tim Ryan’s had his chance,” he said. “Whenever I’m up here in the Mahoning Valley I’m constantly approached by people who tell me that Tim Ryan has failed them and that Tim Ryan has failed to do his job. It’s really simple: we need to go in a new direction in this country.”
Ryan closed the debate by talking about jobs, referencing his grandfather, an Ohio steelworker. “We’ve worked hard, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, to bring economic development back here. It’s a shame that someone running for Senate wants to come to Youngstown and trash all the hard work that we’ve done over the last twenty years,” he said before circling back to his own family history. “We’ve gotta do the kind of things that my grandfather did: give back, serve. But it starts with a good paying job.”
Early voting in Ohio is open and will conclude on Election Day, Nov. 8.
Editor-in-Chief Salvatore Macchione contributed to reporting.