Tim Ryan may be ahead of JD Vance in Ohio. But the cavalry comes to the rescue of Vance.
Whether Ryan can survive the coming ad onslaught and keep the Ohio Senate race surprisingly competitive is an open question. The Democratic congressman is appealing to Republicans and independents in hopes that he can win in a state that has shifted to the right in recent years, falling off the center of the battlefield map it has occupied for so many decades. Vance, the Republican nominee, rose to fame as the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” and was supported in the primary by former President Donald Trump and tech billionaire Peter Thiel.
Independent polls in the race have been scarce until now. But Ryan has plotted a small three-point lead in an internal poll for his campaign, obtained exclusively by POLITICO, receiving 48 percent support from Vance’s 45 percent, with 7 percent undecided. The survey, conducted July 21-28 by Impact Research, surveyed 800 likely voters for general elections and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The starring role is a product of a hitherto one-sided campaign: Ryan has spent more than $8 million on advertising since May, including $6.5 million on television. But until this week, Vance’s campaign had been AWOL off the air all along. Ryan was also way ahead of Vance on cash, thanks in part to an aggressive small-dollar donation campaign.
The Ohio race outcome holds big stakes for the 2022 midterms. The Senate is finely balanced at 50-50, and the Democrats have enjoyed a summer of solid polls in the top swing-state races, despite the challenging political environment . Adding another seriously competitive GOP-occupied seat to the list of battlefield battles in the fall could tilt control of the room next year.
Ironically, the spate of negative stories about Vance’s campaign in recent weeks — of him struggling with fundraising and his own party wondering if Ryan is outsmarting him on the air — has had a net positive effect on Vance’s campaign. Since then, fundraising has increased and Republicans nationals have stepped in to buy ads into the race.
On Thursday, Vance joined Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, NJ, where he raised approximately $300,000 in a golf fundraiser, according to one person with knowledge of the event.
Donors who had been on the sidelines since the primary have suddenly started writing checks, Vance’s ally said. And after a bitter primary battle, Vance’s former adversaries now step up to lend their support. Jane Timken just ran a fundraiser for Vance and the campaign is now planning additional events with Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons.
This week, One Nation, the nonprofit portion of the external spending machine affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), announced a $3.8 million ad purchase in the Ohio Senate race. That follows a nearly $1 million television purchase launched this week as a campaign partnership between Vance and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
In an interview with POLITICO, Ryan said national Republicans are “panicing” about Vance’s prospects and recoiling at the idea that his internal poll represents the pinnacle of his campaign.
“We have a lot of room to grow,” Ryan says. “In many ways, this race has gotten tougher.” He added, “It’s just about how much more Republicans and independent voters we can draw in the next three months.”
Ryan is still making progress on that front. Retiring sen. Rob PortmanJohn Bridgeland, former chief of staff to George W. Bush, former director of George W. Bush’s Domestic Policy Council, is expected to write an endorsement on Ryan’s behalf in an upcoming Sunday edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, as well as leverage his state-based Republican rolodex, POLITICO has learned.
“Tim spends time in every county in Ohio, including heavily Republican counties in southwest Ohio,” Bridgeland told POLITICO. “He really listens to people, wants to know what their concerns are. And JD Vance is tearing people apart. And the last thing this country needs right now is more people igniting the worst dimensions of human nature.”
Ryan’s internal poll also shows that he is on the rise among independents: it showed him 20 points among those voters. According to the poll, Vance also has 85 percent name identification and an unfavorable 50 percent rating after a bruise and expensive Republican primary. Ryan, who enjoyed a smoother ride to his party’s nomination, finds himself with 80 percent name ID and an unfavorable rating of 36 percent).
But Republicans on the ground in Ohio and National Agents in DC say they’re confident the Liberal congressman will fall dramatically if Vance hits the air with positive spots and, especially if Ryan starts seeing assault ads in the Republican state.
A person familiar with One Nation’s decision to buy ad time in Ohio said that “the difference in money between the two candidates is a concern,” but they expect a win from Vance “if he can even fill that gap.” somewhat filling.”
Protect Ohio Values, a super PAC that supported Vance in the primaries with $15 million from Thiel, will also issue again on Vance’s behalf in the general election, according to a person familiar with the group’s plan. Thiel hasn’t said yet whether he will strike another check, but the super PAC has added new donors and plans to issue seven figures to Vance this fall.
“In terms of what’s to come, I think he’s probably at his peak right now,” said Tony Schroeder, chairman of the Putnam County Republican Party, referring to Ryan. “Honestly, we’re in a period where people don’t pay much attention. When the engagement is done, there will be nothing to help Tim Ryan.
Vance has left the campaign trail in Ohio several times this summer, including trips to Conservative Political Action Conference events. But in addition to addressing crowds of activists, the trips have also served as fundraising opportunities. On Friday, before speaking in Dallas at CPAC Texas, Vance headlined the organization’s donor breakfast. He also held face-to-face meetings in the donor-heavy city, as he did when he traveled to Tel Aviv for CPAC Israel last month.
“A lot of this is bedwetting in the summer, to be honest,” said one person close to the campaign, noting how unpopular President Joe Biden remains in Ohio and how closely Republican ads will try to tie Ryan to the president.
During his speech Friday, Vance urged those in attendance to sign up to ring and knock on doors for his campaign, criticizing Ryan as a “weak, fake congressman”. His comments indicated that there is still a battle ahead to win over voters disenchanted with Democrats, “whether they are conservatives, whether they vote Republican every time — the people who just want a good life in the country that their grandparents and great-grandparents have built.”
A campaign spokesperson said Vance was not available for an interview during CPAC Texas on Friday.
Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick said he first met Vance last month when Vance was traveling across the state and visiting law enforcement individually. Levorchick took office as a Democrat in 2011, but changed his voter registration to Republican last year. Ottawa, a province of Obama and Trump, broke with its old bellwether status in 2020 to support Trump for a second term.
Levorchick said as of now that he plans to cast his vote for Vance this fall, suggesting there is mistrust of Ryan in some law enforcement circles.
‘Is he more right than some people might like? Could be,” Levorchick said of Vance. “But if you only have two candidates to choose from, you have to weigh who is actually better suited to represent you.”