On Monday night, Ohio representative Tim Ryan and author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance faced off in the first of two Ohio Senate debates. The candidates touched on a range of hot-button issues, including abortion, inflation, law enforcement and immigration, all while taking frequent jabs at each other. Ryan, who has served as a Democratic representative for Ohio since 2003, did his best to paint Vance as a right-wing extremist who was more in touch with Silicon Valley billionaires than the people of Ohio, while Vance, a Republican, accused Ryan of accomplishing nothing for Ohio’s working class in his many years in Congress.
Although Ohio has grown increasingly conservative in recent years, this year’s Senate race is a close one: Polls show Ryan leading the race by 0.3 percentage points. Although the Democrats currently hold the majority in the Senate with 50 seats (with Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes), Republicans have a 35% chance of winning the majority in November, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, voters have placed more weight on candidates’ views on abortion. When asked, Ryan said he supported codifying Roe, while Vance reaffirmed his pro-life stance and said that he would support a minimum national standard on abortion limits.
Ryan and Vance found common ground on the issue of law enforcement — agreeing that Ohio needs more and better-paid cops — as well as the state of the southern United States border, which Ryan said needs a lot of work to be secure.
When asked about the biggest threat facing American democracy, Ryan pointed to the extremism exhibited during the Jan. 6 riots in 2021 and accused Vance of harboring similar extreme views.
“He’s all in with those people who are the election deniers,” Ryan said. “Running around with people who want to ban books and get the government in our bedroom and in our doctors’ offices.”
In response, Vance mocked Ryan, who claimed to be unafraid to stand up to members of his own party, pointing out that in the last two Congresses, Ryan has consistently voted for Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. “You consistently toe the party line on every single issue. I wish you were the reasonable moderate you said you were,” Vance said.
In his closing statement, Ryan emphasized his goal to rebuild America’s middle class and bring manufacturing back to Ohio, while Vance again took the opportunity to criticize Ryan for his lack of accomplishment and to encourage Ohio voters to take a chance on an outsider.
“At the end of the day, the question here is whether we need new leadership here in this state — double down on the last two years of failed leadership, or take this country in a different direction,” Vance said.
The candidates will debate again on Monday in Youngstown, Ohio.