A look at Ohio’s closely contested U.S. Senate race

Ohio has been shifting to the right over the past few election cycles, but the U.S. Senate race this year has been fiercely competitive — with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan locked in a dead heat against Republican candidate J.D. Vance. Karen Kasler, Ohio Public Radio and Television's Statehouse Bureau chief, joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Time now for our weekend briefing with just over three weeks to go until the midterm elections. Our focus this evening is on Ohio, a state that has been shifting to the right over the past few election cycles. But the U.S. Senate race this year has been fiercely competitive with Republican Senator Rob Portman retiring, Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan is locked in a dead heat against Republican JD Vance to fill the seat. Karen Kasler of Ohio Public Radio and Television joins us now to share her insights. It's great to have you here.

    Karen Kesler, Ohio Public Radio and Television: It's great to be here, Geoff. Thanks.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And Karen, I will tell you in speaking with Democratic officials here in Washington, they have said all along that they could not have asked for a better candidate than Tim Ryan to run in Ohio. He has this blue collar image. He tends to be more of a moderate. He's raising a ton of money.

    JD Vance, though, has really struggled to raise money and he also seemed to take the summer off from campaigning. The difference, though, is that national Republicans stepped into the race. They poured millions of dollars into that race to help JD Vance but national Democrats aren't doing the same thing for Tim Ryan, what's going on?

  • Karen Kesler:

    I think some of that comes from that Ohio went for former president from in 2016 and 2020 by eight point. I mean, Trump won Ohio by more than 475,000 votes in 2020. And so there were some Democrats, I think, who kind of wrote off Ohio as being a state that really wasn't going to embrace having potentially two Democratic senators Ohio has won and Sherrod Brown, who was reelected in 2018.

    So the question then becomes, who could be the potential Democratic candidate. Tim Ryan had talked about it for a while he talked about running for governor. But as you said, this was kind of a year that looked tailor made for him because while he does have a very strong record in voting with Democrat, he does have that populist dial that Sherrod Brown and others have seen as being more moderate.

    And so I think that that's made this race competitive. And certainly, Ryan has been going after the same Voters the JD Vance has been going after.

    JD Vance came out of an expensive Republican campaign in the primary had spent a lot of money, had to do a lot of campaigning there. And so that may have set him up in a different way than Tim Ryan who had a less competitive primary that he had to survive.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    How does the Trump aligned Republican base in Ohio view JD Vance and I asked the question because as you will know, when Donald Trump endorsed Vance, it was a bit of a surprise because back in 2016, JD Vance said that Donald Trump was reprehensible. He said that he was cultural heroine.

    There were a few other phrases that were even worse than that. But when Vance decided to run for the Senate, there was this full embrace of Donald Trump. Does he have credibility among the GOP base there in Ohio?

  • Karen Kesler:

    There was a lot of frustration, I think among Republicans when Trump endorsed Vance, it was a bit of a surprise because there had been kind of this, as POLITICO put it a Hunger Games competition among Republican candidates to try to get that coveted Trump endorsement.

    And so when Trump did endorse Vance, he did have a rally not too long after that, and you saw Republican candidates come out to that rally and show their support for Trump's endorsement events. But there were still some far right conservatives in Ohio who really didn't like those comments that Vance made and really didn't feel the Vance was the right candidate for Trump to endorse didn't matter. Vance ended up winning.

    He actually beat the one candidate who had not thought Donald Trump endorsement, states Senator Matt Dolan by only a small margin and then beat the rest of the very Trump aligned field. But there are still I think, some conservatives who are concerned but have certainly fully embraced the Trump endorsement. One of my colleagues here at our Statehouse news bureau went out on the road with JD Vance and Tim Ryan as well, and found that there were a lot of people who still view date JD Vance is kind of a celebrity. They bring his book, Hillbilly Elegy and asked him to sign it.

    And so that really tracks along with the Trump brand, where he does tend to endorse people who have a lot of name recognition or have some sense of celebrity among the people who's trying to get the vote.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, Tim Ryan and JD Vance faced off in a debate last week, which you covered. And there was this moment where Ryan tried to tie Vance to Donald Trump and cast them both as a threat to democracy. Take a look.

    Rep. Tim Ryan (D) Senate Candidate, Ohio: He's called into question the presidential election. That's a threat to our democracy and running around with people who want to ban books and get the government in our bedroom and in our doctor's offices. But I tell you what, I think politically is a huge threat to our democracy. And that's guys that don't have the guts to stand up to their own party.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Is that an argument that's resonating in this race? What do Ohio voters care about?

  • Karen Kesler:

    Well, I think JD Vance tried to tie Tim Ryan strongly to Democrats by saying he votes with Democrats and President Biden 100 percent of the time. There's truth to that. But certainly, Ryan has been really pushing his record of running against Nancy Pelosi as speaker and really trying to support Trump voters. He doesn't use the word Democrat in his ads. He talks about how he is support them of Trump's policies. And so he's really been going after the same kind of voters that JD Vance has been.

    And so it really sets up a very interesting competition, because there are moderate voters in Ohio who really want to have another option besides Trump source candidate. The Democrats in Ohio certainly want to have a candidate that they can endorse. And it has set up how close this race has become.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yes, absolutely. Karen Kesler of Ohio Public Radio and Television, helping us break down the Senate race. Thanks so much.

  • Karen Kesler:

    Great to be here, thanks.

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