Ohio Senate candidates Rep. Tim Ryan (D) and J.D. Vance (R) squared off in a televised debate on Monday night that saw the two hit each other over everything from ties to Washington, China and the leaders of their respective parties.
While Ryan branded Vance an “ass-kisser” to former President Trump, Vance worked to tie Ryan to President Biden.
The debate comes in the final stretch of a race that has proven to be more competitive than many initially imagined. The Cook Political Report rates it as “lean Republican,” though there are signs Ryan has been closing the gap with Vance ahead of Election Day in November.
Here are five takeaways from the Ohio Senate debate.
Biden, Trump loom large
Throughout Tuesday night, Vance and Ryan worked to brand each other as beholden to the leaders of their respective parties, both of whom suffer from low approval ratings.
When Vance received the debate’s first question on the economy, he wasted no time tying Ryan to inflation under Biden.
“Tim Ryan, of course, has supported all of these policies a hundred percent of the time,” Vance said. “I believe we’ve gone in a fundamentally bad direction over the last couple of years. I think people deserve to go to the grocery store without it completely breaking the bank. Tim Ryan has voted with these policies a hundred percent of the time. Every time he gets an opportunity to stand with Ohioans, he chooses to bend the knee to his own party.”
Ryan, meanwhile, brought up a Youngstown rally Trump held for Vance last month in an effort to underscore the Republican’s fealty to the former president. During the rally, Trump said that Vance, his former critic, was “in love” with him and was “kissing my ass” for support.
“Here’s the thing that’s most troubling about this: lack of courage,” Ryan said on Tuesday, referring to Trump’s comments. “After Trump took J.D. Vance’s dignity from him on the stage in Youngstown, J.D. Vance got back up on stage and started shaking his hand, taking pictures.”
“I’m for Ohio. I don’t kiss anyone’s ass like him. Ohio needs an ass-kicker, not an ass-kisser,” the congressman said.
Both candidates seize on ‘extremist’ label
Vance and Ryan also repeatedly labeled each other as an extremist, albeit for very different reasons.
The Democratic congressman painted the first-time GOP Senate nominee as a fringe candidate, accusing him of supporting the Capitol rioters and lashing into him over his stance on issues like abortion access.
“J.D. Vance is extreme on these issues. No exceptions for rape or incest,” Ryan said. “Now he says he’s not for same-sex marriage. He’s going right down the line with the absolute most extremist. The guys who want to ban books. Those are the guys you bring into the state to campaign. Those are extreme positions that Ohioans are rejecting.”
But Vance hit back against Ryan, calling him extreme when it came to issues like abortion and immigration. At one point, the Republican cited Ryan’s comments about a 10-year-old Ohio girl who was raped and sought an abortion in Indiana due to Ohio’s abortion restrictions. Vance tied the incident to the immigration issue.
“You voted so many times against border wall funding, so many times for amnesty, Tim,” he said. “If you had done your job, she would have never been raped in the first place. Do your job on border security, don’t lecture me about opinions I don’t actually have.”
Ryan distances himself from Dem leaders
Ryan notably used the forum to distance himself from the standard-bearers of his own party, calling for “generational change” in party leadership.
The Democrat, who has served in Congress for two decades, reiterated that he does not believe Biden should run for reelection in 2024.
“No, I’ve been very clear. I’d like to see a generational change,” Ryan said.
“Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, the president, everybody,” he continued. “We need a new generation of leadership.”
The congressman was also critical of Vice President Harris, saying she was “absolutely wrong” in saying that the southern border was secure.
“We need leaders who have courage to take on their own party, and I have proven that,” Ryan, who challenged Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for her position atop the House Democratic Caucus, said at the debate.
Vance hit back at the comment, citing Ryan’s voting record in Congress.
“It’s so funny. We’re getting close to Halloween and Tim Ryan has put on a costume where he pretends to be a reasonable moderate,” Vance said. “The last two Congresses, Tim, you voted with Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden 100 percent. You consistently toe the party line.”
Vance embraces outsider image
Vance repeatedly sought to draw a contrast with Ryan, portraying himself as an outsider who would inject new blood into the Senate.
“At the end of the day, the question here is whether we need new leadership in this state,” Vance said. “Double down on the last two years of failed leadership or take this country in a different direction.”
Vance specifically took aim at Ryan over his 20 years on Capitol Hill.
“Twenty years ago, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. That very same year, Tim Ryan went to Washington, D.C., where he has been failing at his basic job for 20 years,” Vance said.
Vance also touted his own business background to attack Ryan.
“Those of us who create jobs know what it’s like when you have bad policies and we know what it’s like when you have good policies,” he said.
China emerges as flashpoint
China proved to be one of the night’s biggest topics of discussion, given how Ohio’s manufacturing sector has been hit by jobs going overseas to the economic superpower.
“J.D. Vance has invested into companies in China,” Ryan said. “The problem we’re having now with inflation is our supply chains all went to China, and guys like him have made a lot of money off that, and that is exactly why the supply chains are locked up.”
Vance also criticized Ryan over the issue, accusing him of being responsible for manufacturing jobs in his district going to China.
“I’d like Tim Ryan to lecture me on my business background a little bit less and explain to me why the guy who’s the biggest fighter of China had his own congressional district lose tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs to China just in your time in public service.”