Republicans know that with Herschel Walker's campaign in Georgia capsizing and Sen. Raphael Warnock increasing his lead in what was a tight race that f Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan knocks out Hillbilly Racist J.D. Vance next month, they lose any shot at the Senate. The GOP is going all out, dropping tens of millions in Ohio to defend Rob Portman's seat in the final weeks, and that means Ryan is pretty much on his own as he heads into this week's debate with Vance.
Democrats are increasingly fearful that they are squandering a chance to flip a Senate seat in Ohio — a state that once seemed off the map but, according to polls, remains close four weeks from Election Day.
Although the Republican, “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance, has struggled to raise money, national groups have propped up his campaign by pouring in more than $30 million worth of advertising.
Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic nominee, has been a more prolific fundraiser. But because national Democratic groups have provided comparatively little help on the airwaves, Ryan has had to spend cash as fast as it comes in just to keep up with the GOP onslaught.
The lopsided funding has unnerved Democrats in Ohio and across the country, according to interviews with a dozen party leaders and operatives. Many worry that Democrats will regret not doing more to try to pull Ryan ahead of Vance, a right-wing ally of former President Donald Trump.
“Tim Ryan is running the best Senate race in the country and having to do it all by his lonesome,” said Irene Lin, an Ohio-based Democratic strategist who managed Tom Nelson’s Senate primary campaign in Wisconsin this year. “If we lose this race by a few points, and the Senate majority, blame should squarely fall on the D.C. forces who unfairly wrote off Ohio.”
In an interview with NBC News after a campaign appearance Saturday in Cleveland, Ryan sounded resigned to going it alone.
“The national Democrats … trying to talk them into a working-class candidate, it’s like pulling teeth sometimes,” Ryan said as he tossed a football with his 8-year-old son in a parking lot behind an Irish pub. “We’re in Ohio and we got a candidate running around with a tinfoil hat on. We’re out here fighting on our own. I mean, it’s David against Goliath.”
Ryan and Vance are running to succeed Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican who is not seeking re-election. Independent polls suggest the race is a toss-up, with slim leads by either candidate falling within the margin of error. The candidates will meet Monday night in Cleveland for the first of two televised debates.
After losing two presidential campaigns and a race for governor in the state since 2016, national Democrats are wary about spending in Ohio, once a quintessential battleground. Republicans are treating it as a state they can't afford to lose.
Trump’s super PAC was the latest group to jump into the race, reserving more than $1 million in ads last week. The barrage includes a spot attacking Ryan, who has portrayed himself as a moderate, as a party-line voter beholden to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. But even the Schumer-aligned Senate Majority PAC, a major presence in other states key to determining partisan control of the chamber, has been largely absent from Ohio.
Through Monday, Republicans had spent or reserved at least $37.9 million worth of advertising on the general election, according to AdImpact, an ad tracking firm. Only $3.7 million of that had come directly from Vance’s campaign, with another $1.6 million split between the campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee through coordinated advertising.
Ryan, who hails from post-industrial Youngstown, was blunt in his assessment of the Democratic Party this week: “We need a brand change.” He tells Rolling Stone that he wants a less coastal Democratic Party, pointing out the lack of House leaders from the middle of the country. “It’s a pretty large swath of the country to completely ignore,” he says. “How in God’s name do we expect to win the House, have a significant majority, hold it, have a party brand that’s connecting to people, and have nobody in the Midwest at all?”
In past interviews, Ryan has lamented his party’s turn toward political correctness. “We can’t have these purity tests,” he said, before listing a few key characteristics all Democrats should have. “You can’t be racist. You can’t be sexist. You can’t be homophobic — you’ve got to check those boxes — and then be economically progressive,” he said. “Other than that, we’ve got to be a big-tent party.” Ryan said he wants Democrats to come up with an umbrella economic agenda that can unify the party’s diverse coalition: “A robust economic message that all of those different groups could hear and go, ‘Yeah, you know, That’s me. I’m in on that.’”