Republican Senate hopeful J.D. Vance, a venture capitalist and author, faced off against Rep. Tim Ryan, who has represented northeast Ohioans in Congress since 2003, Monday night in their first debate ahead of the midterm elections on Nov. 8.
The seat is currently rated as “lean Republican” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, though recent polling shows a tight race. Vance holds a statistically insignificant average edge of 1.4 points over Ryan in polls conducted between mid-August and the beginning of October.
The following is a recap of several of the key policy issues discussed during the debate.
Ryan side-stepped blaming President Joe Biden for the persistence of elevated inflation, saying instead, “Well, I think everybody’s to blame.” He went on to highlight his support for a tax cut for working Americans to help curb inflation’s effects.
Vance argued that Democratic spending has “thrown fuel on the fire fire of the inflation problem.”
“At the same time, they’ve completely gone to war against America’s energy sector, and you can’t do both of those things at the same time,” Vance continued. “They’re each bad ideas, but when you do both of them at the same time you’re going to get record inflation.”
Ryan reaffirmed his support for codifying the abortion rights enshrined till this spring in Roe v. Wade, following the Supreme Court’s decision in June to return the issue to states. He called the ruling “the largest governmental overreach in the history of our lifetime, complete violation of personal freedom and liberty of women in this state.”
The congressman, a Catholic, also contrasted his view with that of Vance, who previously said that “two wrongs don’t make a right” when asked whether abortion laws should make exceptions for rape and incest.
Vance, however, signaled he might be open to exceptions, invoking the recent story of a 10-year-old Ohio girl forced to travel to Indiana to terminate a pregnancy after being raped.
“I’ve always believed in reasonable exceptions,” Vance said, adding later, “Look, I’ve got a 9-year-old baby girl at home. I cannot imagine what that’s like for the girl, for her family. God forbid something like that would happen. I’ve said repeatedly on the record, I think that that girl should be able to get an abortion if she and her family so choose to do so.”
Vance then observed that the girl’s rapist had been an undocumented immigrant, and argued for stricter border policies. “You voted so many times against border wall funding, so many times for amnesty towns,” Vance said, addressing Ryan. “If you had done your job, she would have never been raped in the first place.”
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Ryan said having a strong military is important so the U.S. can “make sure that we can push back people like Vladimir Putin if they tried to invade a freedom-loving country.”
Asked about the prospect of Putin’s using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, Ryan said the U.S. would formulate an “aggressive response.”
“I don’t think we’re at that point where Vladimir Putin will — I hope he doesn’t — [but] we should be prepared for all contingencies should he do that, and it should be a swift and significant response. We cannot have a butcher like Vladimir Putin rolling into Ukraine. What he’s done there is an absolute atrocity, and the fact that he’s killed innocent people, innocent women, innocent girls is so heartbreaking.”
Vance agreed that Putin’s invasion had been “disgusting and wrong” but emphasized a need for de-escalation.
He argued that Ryan’s response had been unclear. “He said that if Vladimir Putin uses nuclear weapons, we should have a strong response. What exactly does that mean?” Vance said. “Does that mean we’re in a nuclear shooting war? I have three kids, and I’m running to be the United States senator for the state of Ohio. I want to protect those children, and I want a foreign-policy establishment that puts the interests of our citizens first.”
Ryan hit back that “if J.D. had his way, Putin would be through Ukraine at this point. He’d be going into Poland. Like, if he’s using nuclear weapons, what do you want us to do?”
Added Ryan: “I mean, you can’t just send send hopes and prayers.”
The pair both advocated for tariffs against China and policies aimed at bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., an issue that has become dominant in the race as Ryan has continually worked to tie Vance to the outsourcing of American jobs to China.
Ryan said he supports legalizing marijuana, calling it “ridiculous” how much taxpayer money has been spent imprisoning people for marijuana offenses.
“I don’t want anybody going to prison for smoking a joint,” Vance said, adding that he opposes a “soft on crime” approach to violent drug offenses.
Both Vance and Ryan said the synthetic opioid fentanyl is a major problem, with Vance using his mother’s battle with addiction as a point of reference.
Vance said his mom has been sober for seven years, having gotten a second chance “because the [opioids in circulation in] the country, thank God, 15 years ago, [were] not nearly as dangerous as the poison that’s coming into the country today.”
“Tim Ryan has done nothing to stop the flow of fentanyl,” Vance continued, connecting the issue with the security of the southern U.S. border. “He talks about wanting to support a stronger border. He talks about wanting to be bipartisan and get things done. Well, Tim, you’ve been in Congress for 20 years, and the border problem has gotten worse and worse and worse.”
Vance and Ryan are vying to replace retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who has held the seat since 2011.
Portman won the seat by some 18 and 20 points in 2010 and 2016, respectively, and polling gave him a double-digital lead in both years around the same point in the election cycle — significantly wider than the polling lead Vance currently enjoys.
FiveThirtyEight editor in chief Nate Silver wrote in August that factors favoring Ryan include fundraising, the fact that Vance is not an incumbent and Ohio’s history of preferring moderate Republicans. Vance, though a Yale Law graduate whose memoir held appeal across demographics and geographies, tightly embraced “MAGA”-style talking points to attract the likely pivotal endorsement of former president Donald Trump in a bruising Republican primary battle. (The state’s other Senate seat has been held since 2007 by liberal Democrat Sherrod Brown.)
“Ryan might also have some success in portraying Vance as being too far to the right — Vance previously supported cutting Social Security and Medicare — and Ohio has a history of preferring relatively moderate Republicans, such as outgoing Sen. Rob Portman and former Gov. John Kasich,” Silver wrote.
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Ryan has outfundraised Vance by a factor of nearly 6 to 1, according to the campaign-finance-tracking site OpenSecrets. And Ryan has more than $3.5 million in available cash, compared with Vance’s $628,000.
That’s not to say Vance is lacking in financial support. Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel gave $15 million to Protect Ohio Values PAC, which bolstered Vance in the crowded Republican primary field. That, along with the Trump’s endorsement, helped Vance secure the Republican nomination with just 32.2% of the vote.
Ryan, by contrast, coasted through his primary, giving him extra time to build statewide name identification and brand himself as an independent-minded “fighter” for the state.
To that end, Ryan has sought to distance himself from President Biden.
He has sharply criticized Biden over student-loan forgiveness, saying it “sends the wrong message to the millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet.” On Monday, Ryan repeated his stated belief that Biden should not run for re-election in 2024, saying he’d like to see a “generational change” that would usher offstage not only Biden but the likes of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
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A second debate between the two candidates is scheduled for Oct. 17 in Youngstown, Ohio.
Read on (September 2022): J.D. Vance skips Senate debate as Republicans argue commission is partisan