J.D. Vance skated to victory in Ohio’s Senate Republican primary earlier this month. Now he faces more skeptical general election voters who are weighing his views on abortion, jobs and the economy against a popular and well-financed Democratic opponent.
Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan is inarguably the underdog on the November ballot. Pollsters view the Senate seat as less competitive for Democrats this year thanks to an electorate that has shifted decisively toward Republicans.
Former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Mr. Vance, won the state by 8 points in 2020. In the May 3 primary, twice as many Republican voters turned out to vote than Democrats, suggesting an enthusiasm gap ahead of the November election that will benefit Mr. Vance.
Mr. Ryan and Democrats, however, are hoping to win over the state’s vast numbers of independent voters and are targeting suburban women by portraying Mr. Vance, a venture capitalist and best-selling author, as an extreme anti-abortion conservative with weak ties and scant loyalty to Ohio.
“J.D. Vance left Ohio for San Francisco to make millions and invest in companies that profit from globalization and free trade,” Mr. Ryan, 48, who has represented Ohio’s Youngstown area in Congress for nearly two decades, said in a recent campaign ad. “He became a celebrity CNN analyst and a big hit at Washington cocktail parties. Now Vance says he feels out of place in Ohio, and he wants to represent you in the Senate. What a joke.”
Mr. Vance, 37, told The Washington Times he’ll contrast himself to Mr. Ryan’s voting record, which he says is aligned with the House Democrats’ increasingly left-wing agenda. He also will remind voters of Mr. Ryan’s support for the Biden administration agenda that many blame for drastically higher prices at gas stations and grocery stores.
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“He‘s voted 100% with Joe Biden with all his energy and inflation policies,” said Mr. Vance, whose best-selling book “Hillbilly Elegy,” was adapted into a movie. “Rhetorically, he‘s trying to run to the center. He‘s trying to pretend to be somebody he‘s not. But his record speaks for itself.”
The Supreme Court ruling on abortion looms as another major issue in the Senate race.
A leaked draft of the high court’s majority opinion called for overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion and sending the decision back to the states.
In Ohio, abortion is legal until 20 weeks of pregnancy. The procedure is allowed at 20 weeks or later only if the pregnant woman’s life or health is jeopardized. Ohio passed a “heartbeat” abortion bill banning the procedure after approximately six weeks but the law has been blocked in court. The stricter abortion ban could be enacted if Roe is overturned.
Mr. Ryan says Mr. Vance embraces the most extreme view against abortion, opposing it entirely, even in cases of rape or incest.
The Ryan campaign, with an eye on suburban voters and women in particular, is running an ad quoting a September interview in which Mr. Vance said he opposes all abortion except in cases where the pregnant woman’s life or health is jeopardized.
“J.D. Vance wants to eliminate abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest. He says rape is ‘inconvenient,’” Mr. Ryan tweeted.
Mr. Vance didn’t call rape “inconvenient,” but told Columbus-based Spectrum News, “It’s not whether a woman should be forced to bring a child to term, it’s whether a child should be allowed to live, even though the circumstances of that child’s birth are somehow inconvenient or a problem to the society.”
In an interview with The Times, Mr. Vance said it is Mr. Ryan who holds extreme views on abortion because he supports it up until birth.
“I can accept that there are people who are going to vote for me in Ohio that don’t share my views 100%,” Mr. Vance said. “But I think that even people who are pro-choice don’t defend abortion up to 40 weeks of age. So actually, Tim Ryan‘s views on abortion are really radical. They’re completely out of step with the voters of Ohio.”
Mr. Ryan’s campaign team did not respond to a request for a comment about the race and the abortion issue.
In a Fox News interview earlier this month, host Bret Baier asked Mr. Ryan if he supports “any limits to abortion at any point, late-term, anything?”
Mr. Ryan responded, “Look, you’ve got to leave it up to the woman.”
Karen Beckwith, a political science scholar at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said the Supreme Court abortion ruling “may serve to increase turnout among those who think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.”
National polling shows most people support abortion in early pregnancy, and many believe the procedure should remain legal later in pregnancy in cases of incest, rape or health emergencies.
A national poll conducted by the Trafalgar Group in May found fewer than 14% of respondents aligned with Mr. Vance, opposing abortion entirely except when the pregnant woman’s life is in jeopardy.
The poll found even fewer respondents, 11.6%, agreed with Mr. Ryan’s view that abortion should be decided entirely by the pregnant woman up until birth.
While the abortion issue will contrast the two candidates, Ohio’s economy and jobs are central to both campaigns.
The state continues to shed thousands of higher-paying manufacturing jobs due to plant closures and relocations, although in other sectors, job openings exceed workers.
In April, an automotive component plant in Kettering announced it would close, in part due to high steel prices. The plant closure will eliminate more than 600 jobs.
Mr. Ryan, who has the endorsement of 26 labor unions said if elected he would support investments that would return manufacturing to Ohio, creating thousands of good-paying jobs.
He has suggested Mr. Vance has given up on returning manufacturing to Ohio.
One of Mr. Ryan’s campaign ads features audio of Mr. Vance saying a middle-aged factory worker in Ohio “may not be able to find a good-paying job for the rest of his working life.”
Mr. Vance told The Times that he believes the U.S. should have a strong manufacturing base. Mr. Ryan, he said, opposed Mr. Trump’s tariffs on imports from China, which Mr. Vance said, “protected, and will continue to protect a lot of manufacturing jobs in this country if they are maintained in place.”
Mr. Vance said he’s focused on rising inflation and the illegal immigration surge at the border, which voters have told him are their biggest concerns “and what appears to be the slow-running collapse of the American economy.”
Mr. Vance will have the advantage of Mr. Trump‘s endorsement to help bring GOP voters to the polls in November but said he expects Mr. Ryan will defeat him in fundraising.
Mr. Ryan raised $4.1 million in the first quarter of 2022 and had $6.4 million in cash on hand, according to the campaign. Mr. Vance raised $632,000 but has enjoyed the support of fellow venture capitalist and billionaire Peter Thiel, who has provided around $13.5 million to a political action committee working on behalf of Mr. Vance.