JD Vance and Tim Ryan wage battle of the populists in race for Ohio’s open Senate seat

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In the face-off for Ohio’s open Senate seat, the gloves quickly came off between Republican JD Vance and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan minutes after the two candidates who preach populist politics won their parties’ nominations.

“Vance is an out-of-touch millionaire who’s made a career of bashing the working class and is the worst possible choice to represent Ohio,” Ryan, the longtime congressman from a heavily blue-collar district in northeast Ohio said in a tweet.


Ryan, who’s championed the working class during his years in Congress and during his unsuccessful 2020 White House run, handily bested two lesser-known rivals to win Tuesday’s Democratic Senate primary election in Ohio.

Vance had a much more difficult path to victory in a crowded and brutal GOP showdown for the party’s nomination in the battle to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman, one of a handful of races across the country that could determine if the GOP wins back the Senate majority in November’s midterm election.

Senate candidate JD Vance, left, greets former President Trump at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds April 23, 2022, in Delaware, Ohio.
(AP Photo/Joe Maiorana, File)

The former hedge fund executive and bestselling author’s endorsement from former President Trump less than three weeks ago catapulted him to victory over rivals who also sought the former president’s backing. Vance ran a populist primary campaign that spotlighted his support for Trump’s America First agenda.

Urging his party to reunite after a bitterly fought primary, Vance said at his Tuesday night celebration that “we need to unify to fight Tim Ryan. It’s our Republican Party, ladies and gentlemen. It is the party of working people all across the state of Ohio, and it needs to fight, and it needs to win.”


Vance asserted that “Ryan says that he cares about us here in Ohio … but he refuses to fight his own party when they have flooded the state of Ohio with illegal drugs and sex traffickers.”

Ryan, in a video he posted on social media soon after Vance was projected the GOP nominee, claimed that “Vance left Ohio for San Francisco to make millions, investing in companies that profit in globalization and free trade. He became a celebrity — CNN analyst — and a big hit at Washington cocktail parties.”

It’s no surprise that both candidates immediately took aim at each other’s working-class credentials.

Ohio, once a top general election battleground that gave then-President George W. Bush his 2004 reelection victory, has trended redder in recent cycles, thanks in part to Trump’s major gains with working-class voters. Former President Barack Obama, in his 2012 reelection, and populist Sen. Sherrod Brown, in his 2018 reelection, were the last two Democrats to win statewide in Ohio.

Voters, by a nearly two-to-one margin in Tuesday’s Republican primary, outnumbered voters in the Democratic primary.

Paul Beck, a longtime Ohio-based political scientist and a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, said that Ryan and Vance “will be courting a lot of the same voters.”

JD Vance, co-founder of Narya Capital Management LLC and U.S. Republican Senate candidate for Ohio, speaks during a campaign event in Huber Heights, Ohio, Feb. 17, 2022. 
(Gaelen Morse/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

He noted that the Senate race is navigating some “unchartered waters” as Republicans used “to be more mainstream in the past.”


Portman, the GOP incumbent who’s retiring, comes from the more traditional establishment wing of the GOP. 

While Trump’s influence has dramatically changed the GOP in recent years, another old-school Republican — former senator and first-term Gov. Mike DeWine — easily dispatched two primary challengers from the right.

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