Five takeaways from the Ryan-Vance debate in Ohio

Ohio Senate candidates Reps. Tim Ryan (D) and JD Vance (R) squared off in a televised debate Monday night, where the two butted heads over their ties to everything from Washington and China to the leaders of their respective parties.

While Ryan labeled 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 that Ryan has closed the gap with Vance ahead of Election Day in November.

Here are five takeaways from the Ohio Senate debate.

Biden, Trump looms large

Throughout Tuesday night, Vance and Ryan worked to label each other as dependent on the leaders of their respective parties, both of whom suffer from low approval ratings.

When Vance took 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 one hundred percent of the time,” Vance said. “I think 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 completely breaking the bank. Tim Ryan has voted with these policies one hundred percent of the time . Every time he gets an opportunity to stand with Ohioans, he chooses to bow the knee to his own party.”

Ryan, meanwhile, took to a Youngstown rally Trump held for Vance last month in an effort to emphasize the Republican’s allegiance to the former president. During the meeting, Trump said Vance, his former critic, was “in love” with him and was “kissing my ass” for support.

“Here’s what’s most troubling about this: a lack of courage,” Ryan said Tuesday, referring to Trump’s comments. “After Trump stripped JD Vance of his dignity on stage in Youngstown, JD Vance got back up on stage and started shaking his hand and taking pictures.”

“I’m for Ohio. I don’t kiss anybody’s ass like him. Ohio needs an ass-kicker, not an ass-kisser,” the congressman said.

Both candidates seize the “extremist” label

Vance and Ryan also repeatedly labeled each other an extremist, though for very different reasons.

The Democratic congressman painted the first-time GOP Senate nominee as a fringe candidate, accusing him of supporting Capitol rioters and lashing out at him over his stance on issues like abortion access.

“JD Vance is extreme on these issues. No exceptions for rape or incest,” Ryan said. “Now he’s saying he’s not for same-sex marriage. He goes right down the line with the absolute most extremist. The guys who want to ban books. These are the guys you bring into the state to campaign. These are extreme positions that Ohioans reject.”

But Vance hit back at 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 because of Ohio’s abortion restrictions. Vance linked 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 never have been raped in the first place. Do your job with borderline safety, don’t lecture me about opinions I don’t actually have.”

Ryan distances himself from Dem leaders

In particular, Ryan used the forum to distance himself from his own party’s standard-bearers, 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 re-election in 2024.

“No, I have been very clear. I want to see a generational shift,” Ryan said.

“Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, the president, everybody,” he continued. “We need a new generation of leaders.”

The congressman was also critical of Vice President Harris, saying she was “absolutely wrong” to say the southern border was secure.

“We need leaders who have the courage to take on their own party, and I’ve proven that,” said Ryan, who challenged Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for his position at the top of the House Democratic Caucus , during the debate.

Vance hit back at the comment, citing Ryan’s congressional voting record.

“It’s so funny. We’re getting close to Halloween and Tim Ryan has put on a costume where he’s pretending to be a reasonable moderate,” Vance said. “The last two congresses, Tim, you voted with Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden 100 percent . You consistently follow the party line.”

Vance embraces outsider image

Vance repeatedly tried to draw a contrast to Ryan, portraying himself as an outsider who would inject new blood into the Senate.

“At the end of the day, the question here is do 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 during his 20 years on Capitol Hill.

“Twenty years ago, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. That same year, Tim Ryan went to Washington, DC, where he has been failing 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 to have bad policies, and we know what it’s like to have good policies,” he said.

China appears as a flash point

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.

“JD Vance has invested in companies in China,” Ryan said. “The problem we have now with inflation is that our supply chains all went to China and guys like him have made a lot of money off of that, and that’s exactly why the supply chains are locked.”

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 less and explain to me why the guy who is China’s biggest fighter had his own congressional district lose tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs to China just during your time in public service.”

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