Four takeaways from Ohio’s US Senate debate


The debate between Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican JD Vance in Ohio’s closer-than-expected Senate race began with a tough exchange about the economy and quickly escalated from there into a contentious — and at times personal — clash.

This race was not a contest that Republicans thought would command as much money and attention as it has, given the Republican tilt of the state, which former President Donald Trump comfortably carried twice. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the seat as “Lean Republican,” while top-tier Senate campaigns in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Nevada are still seen as more competitive. Still, Ryan’s bid to replace retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman has proven to be a strong match for an underfunded GOP candidate that Trump dragged through the primary.

Monday night’s upsets highlighted the urgency of the moment for both candidates.

For Ryan, millions in ads will be spent against the congressman in the coming weeks, testing the so far relatively resilient Democratic campaign in a state that is trending red. For Vance, the Republican has found his footing after a rough summer, leaning into the state’s natural political tilt by accusing his Democratic opponent of falsifying his moderate bona fides.

In a debate where neither candidate was afraid to go after his opponent — Ryan called Vance an “ass kisser” while Vance compared Ryan to a small child — it was clear that both candidates felt they had the ground to make up the race with less than four weeks to election day.

Here are four takeaways from Ohio’s first Senate debate:

Abortion has come to shape political campaigns across the country in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning national abortion protections, and the Ohio Senate race has been no different.

Ryan tried to act as the moderator on the issue in Monday’s debate, saying he supported “going back to Roe v. Wade” and arguing for “some moderation on this issue.” He then turned the issue on Republicans, calling the effort to pass stricter abortion laws “the biggest government overreach in the history of our lifetime.”

Vance, who said he was “pro-life” but “always believed in reasonable exceptions,” responded by delivering one of his most scathing lines, apparently blaming Ryan for the rape of the 10-year-old Ohio girl who sought an abortion in neighboring Indiana by noting that she was allegedly raped by an undocumented immigrant and that Ryan had voted against border wall funding.

“If you had done your job, she never would have been raped in the first place,” Vance said, turning to Ryan. “Do your job on border security, don’t lecture me about opinions I don’t actually have.”

Later in the debate, Ryan said he supported walls along the US-Mexico border where it made sense, but not one wall from “sea to shining sea.”

As he has done on the campaign trail and in paid ads, Ryan sought throughout the debate to tout his independent bona fides, noting how he broke from his own party and at times supported Trump on trade.

“I think everybody’s to blame,” Ryan said when asked if President Joe Biden is to blame for rising inflation. “Kamala Harris is dead wrong about that,” he added when asked if the vice president was right when she said the border was secure.

Ryan then used that argument to hammer his opponent, claiming he “can’t stand against anybody” because even after Trump said at a recent campaign rally that Vance “kissed me” to get him to campaign for him, the Republican The nominee did not stand up to the former president after he stripped him of his “dignity.”

“He was called an ass-kisser by the former president,” Ryan said, later adding, “Ohio needs an ass-kisser, not an ass-kisser.”

Vance left with a timely response. Noting that Halloween is near, he added: “Tim Ryan has put on a costume where he pretends to be reasonably moderate.”

And the Republican did little to distance himself from Trump, his party’s standard-bearer. When asked if Trump had done anything that concerns him, Vance called for “the criminal investigation to play out” into the mishandling of classified documents stored at Mar-a-Lago and criticized the focus on past scandals surrounding the former president .

Vance closed the debate by comparing his personal choice two decades ago — to enlist in the Marines — to Ryan’s decision to run for Congress.

For Vance, the race between him and Ryan is a referendum on “failed leadership” in Washington, positioning that allows the Republican to carry himself as the political outsider and Ryan as the career politician.

“He’s failed his basic job for 20 years,” Vance said of Ryan, who was first elected to Congress in 2002. “Talks a big game, but the record of accomplishments just isn’t there.”

Although Ryan pushed back against that narrative — “I’m not going to apologize for spending 20 years chipping away at trying to help one of the hardest-hit regions in Ohio,” the Democrat said — Vance’s strategy ready.

“Ohioans deserve certain things from their federal leadership,” Vance said, capturing his entire electoral argument. “They deserve to go to the grocery store and be able to afford food without breaking the bank. They deserve streets you can safely walk down. They deserve a country that has a border.”

Some of the biggest differences of the night came on foreign policy.

Asked how the United States should respond to the potential Russian use of nuclear weapons, Ryan said it would call for an “aggressive response” but added: “I don’t think we’re at the point where (the Russian president) Vladimir Putin will.”

Ryan then tried to turn the question on Vance, noting that the Republican once said he “really doesn’t care what happens to Ukraine.”

“JD Vance would let Putin roll right through Ukraine,” Ryan said, noting the large Ukrainian population in Ohio. “JD Vance is weak on this.”

However, Vance did not shy away from those comments, saying, “The answer is that nobody knows how we would respond,” and mocking Ryan for saying that the use of nuclear weapons would require an “aggressive response.”

“What exactly does that mean? Does it mean we’re going to be in a nuclear war?” Vance said, accusing Ryan of being part of the “bipartisan foreign policy establishment.”

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