J.D. Vance hit the campaign trail in Northeast Ohio with Iowa Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst and a handful of down ballot GOP candidates on Oct. 13. His message in the final weeks of Ohio’s U.S. Senate race echoed claims from his most recent campaign ad — after 20 years in office, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan has had plenty of chances but few accomplishments.
In Aurora, about 50 people squeezed into a window-lined room just off the bar at the Six Horses Tavern. The crowd, mostly white and older, munched on chicken biscuits and bruschetta while they waited.
Ruth Wise used to teach elementary school and explained she was eager to visit because she’s “always open to learning more.” Right next to her, Anna and John Heinl were both planning to vote for Vance but offered different perspectives about the nominee.
Anna was enthusiastic, pointing to Vance’s service in the Marines. “We’ve had grandsons that went through the Marine Program,” she said, “So I’m really impressed with the character of a person that gets through that.”
Her husband John, meanwhile, brought a list of questions along covering foreign policy and the electoral college. He said he was voting for Vance but far from “sold.” Recalling the first general election debate, he allowed that Tim Ryan’s closing remarks offered a more promising vision for the state.
“I’m voting for Vance anyhow, I just think his campaign could’ve emphasized some different points,” he said. “If Vance loses, I blame it on his campaign.”
State Rep. Gail Pavliga (R-Atwater) got things rolling and brought out Secretary of State Frank LaRose to introduce Vance. As he has throughout the campaign, Vance emphasized U.S. immigration policy and drew a line from the southern border to the opioid crisis. He tied Ryan to President Joe Biden and argued their “unforced errors” were responsible for inflation.
After claiming Ryan looked like he needed to pass a kidney stone during the debate, Vance made his core pitch to voters.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this guy, his 20 years in office have been a failure,” Vance told the crowd. “And on November the eighth, we get to send him home, back to Youngstown to get a real job. We’re not going to promote him to the United States Senate.”
Vance then handed them off to Sen. Joni Ernst. Echoing Vance’s critique about Ryan’s accomplishments, Ernst claimed after eight years in office, she “had no idea who (Tim Ryan) was.” A dubious claim to make for a Senator — from Iowa — about a former presidential candidate.
She went on to criticize Ryan’s use of proxy voting. He’s among the most frequent users of the practice, and Vance has previously criticized Ryan for assigning a proxy so that he could campaign.
“That’s why he doesn’t have a lot under his belt to call accomplishments,” Ernst said. “It’s because he’s too busy doing whatever he is doing and not showing up in Washington, D.C. to represent all the good folks here in Ohio.”
An hour south in Canton, GOP congressional candidate Madison Gesiotto Gilbert hosted the final campaign event of the day. She encouraged the 60-odd people to help knock on doors and described her bid as “one of the top targeted races in the country to help us take back the House.”
She handed the floor over to Ohio Auditor Keith Faber who zeroed in on another ongoing critique — Tim Ryan’s run to the middle. Politicians moderating after the primary is nothing new, but Ryan running ads emphasizing his agreements with Donald Trump on trade policy is notable.
“We’re seeing somebody who wants to be more like Republicans,” Faber said. “Well, if you want to be that way, we had a Republican primary and J.D. won.”
Vance echoed that argument when he addressed the crowd.
“This bill of goods that he has sold to the people of Ohio, that he’s a MAGA Republican even though he votes with Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time, the jig is up, and people aren’t buying it anymore,” Vance said. “And that’s why he’s gonna lose. That’s why we’re gonna whip his tail.”
Ernst circled back to Ryan’s record in Congress.
“Tim Ryan is the status quo. If you want nothing to get done in the United States Senate, Tim Ryan is your man, OK?” she said. “If you want to see changes at the federal level, and you want to see this country get back on track, then J.D. Vance is the man for you.”
Libby Adams is casting a ballot this year for the very first time and she said she’s excited to be backing Vance. She participated in The American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls Nation as Ohio’s junior senator and said she’s volunteering with Dave Yost’s campaign. Vance’s stance on immigration resonated most with her.
Mary and Frank Pershing have been knocking on doors for Vance since he won the primary. They explained they aren’t usually that active in political campaigns. Mary said she supports Vance because she believes he’d “leave no Ohioan behind.”
One issue that didn’t come up in Aurora or Canton was abortion. During the first general election debate, Vance said he’s “always believed in reasonable exceptions” to allow abortions, despite describing himself throughout his campaign as “100% pro-life.”
Vance also rejected the 15-week national abortion ban proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham. He argued states should set their own policy while allowing that some “minimum national standard” would be OK with him. He didn’t offer details on where he’d draw the line, or what form those restrictions should take. Would they guarantee residents in all 50 states a minimum level of abortion access or would it limit states’ permissiveness?
During a debate in the primary, Vance and his opponent Josh Mandel took time out to criticize the lack of questions about abortion. Afterward, he argued the moderator should’ve asked about it specifically because it would force a more nuanced conversation.
“Even in issues where there’s general unity within the party, we should ask people how they feel,” he argued, “because one, you might get an answer, you don’t expect, and two, you might see how that how the candidates, or the voters might see how the candidates actually respond to those different points of emphasis.”
Vance didn’t take questions at any one of his three campaign stops.
This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.