Tim Ryan forges new script for Democrats running in red states

JD Vance (left) and Tim Ryan. Photos: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democrat Tim Ryan is using his big fundraising advantage over Republican JD Vance in the Ohio Senate race to define himself as conservative-friendly through TV ads targeting GOP audiences — while the campaign de Vance remains silent.

Driving the news: Ryan’s latest adairing exclusively on Fox News last week, the show earned warm reviews from conservative network hosts, including Tucker Carlson.

Why is this important: It’s an unorthodox approach that reflects how much this two-decade congressman has to disrupt expectations to have a chance in the state.

  • That’s the reality even against a rival with mixed reviews within the GOP like Vance, a successful venture capitalist and memoirist who openly opposed former President Trump before embracing him.
  • Once a swing state, Ohio now clearly favors Republicans. Trump won by eight points in 2020. The governor, attorney general, and secretary of state are all Republicans, as is the legislative majority.

Between the lines: General election voters traditionally don’t pay much attention to the races before Labor Day. But Ryan sees if he can use the sleepy summer months to define Vance — and himself — with Republican audiences while on the air alone.

By the numbers: Ryan’s Campaign spent $6.4 million on television commercials since winning the primary. Vance hasn’t spent money on TV spots since becoming the GOP nominee.

  • Ryan aired TV ads saying “it’s us against China” and featuring a local sheriff accusing Vance of offering to defund the police. His first general election announcement dubbed Vance as an elitist who is a “hit in Washington cocktails”.
  • Vance’s biggest backer, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, hasn’t spent on the Republican candidate’s behalf since winning May’s hotly contested primary.
  • Thiel is waiting to recommit until his other endorsed Senate nominee, Blake Masters, finishes Arizona’s Senate primary in August, according to a Republican strategist allied with Vance.
  • Protect Ohio Values, the pro-Vance super PAC that Thiel has funded, has raised just $675,800 since Vance won the Republican primary, according to the Cleveland Plain dealer.

What we are looking at: Ryan’s Campaign announced a fundraising of $9.1 million in the second quarter of fundraising, a massive haul that broke fundraising records in Ohio.

  • Vance raised $1 million for his campaign account and brought a additional $1.3 million through two joint fundraising committees and a leadership PAC.
  • But the $726,000 raised through the leadership PAC, typically used as a vehicle to direct money to allies, cannot be used for TV ads, limiting its usefulness.
  • Republican Senate sources expect Ryan to maintain a significant fundraising advantage throughout the campaign, with Vance relying on Thiel’s largesse to close the gap.

What they say : A spokesperson for Vance’s super PAC said Axios Ryan “earns a place on Mount Rushmore of Democratic money pits,” arguing that the congressman’s huge spending hasn’t shown up in the polls.

  • “[N]No amount of money can hide Tim Ryan’s voting record for Biden’s failed agenda 100% of the time,” the spokesperson added.

The bottom line: Whether or not he can defy the odds, Ryan has achieved his success so far by running to the right of President Biden and vying for culturally conservative voters in a state that has recently been hostile to his party.

  • This approach could serve as a model for Democrats in some swing states or districts who tailor appeals to moderates versus the progressive base.


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