CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio—Republican J.D. Vance says he never had a doubt that Ohio voters would eventually wake up to what is at stake in the upcoming Senate election.
After months of what appeared to be a neck-and-neck race with Democratic Senate nominee Tim Ryan, polls show Vance is finally breaking through with voters. But, Vance told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview, it’s not because his message changed.
"The energy is higher as you get closer to Election Day, but I’ve always thought the idea this race was close was a bit of a mirage," Vance said on Saturday. "A lot of our base just wasn’t really paying attention to politics, they were on vacation or hanging out with their kids."
The most recent polls find Vance leading anywhere from 6 to as much as 9 points, a dramatic departure from what was considered a statistically tied race as recently as October. The polling lead makes Vance the most likely Republican in states considered a "battleground" to prevail on Tuesday.
Vance’s solid lead—he told the Free Beacon he now "loves the polls"—doesn’t come as a major surprise. Former president Donald Trump won the state twice by 8 points, and retiring Sen. Rob Portman’s seat has been occupied by a Republican since 1999. Even as Ryan performed well in summer polls, election prognosticators across the board always viewed Ohio as a likely Republican win, no matter what the polls said.
Ryan has struggled in the final stretch to answer questions about his record. In a recent Fox News town hall, he was asked by voters about his past statements endorsing a variety of far-left policies such as dramatically reducing the prison population. In response, Ryan said he only meant that the United States should legalize marijuana.
When asked whether he has any regrets about voting 100 percent of the time with President Joe Biden, he deflected and called for a tax cut to help Americans financially struggling amid record-high inflation.
"We’ve hammered Ryan on the airwaves over his record," Vance told the Free Beacon. "So now when I talk to voters they’re aware he’s anti-energy, anti-cop."
Ryan’s trouble with answering questions on his own record is emblematic of the issues plaguing his campaign. Although he pitches himself as the kind of Democrat who can win back Trump voters, he finds it difficult to break from his party’s activist base.
At the end of October, Ryan was asked by a local outlet whether he would vote "Yes" on a ballot initiative that adds language to the state constitution barring illegal aliens from voting in federal, state, and local elections. Ryan responded by saying he hasn’t "read" enough on the issue yet.
These incidents have opened the door for Vance, as well as outside groups supporting his candidacy, to effectively label Ryan’s entire campaign persona as a farce. To show Ryan is far from the moderate he claims to be, Republicans point to positions he’s taken that put him to the left of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).
During his failed bid for the presidency in 2019, Ryan said Sanders’s plan to eliminate gas cars didn’t go far enough. That same year, Ryan called for a federal ban on fracking.
Without making use of the United States’ domestic energy resources, Vance said at a Saturday rally in Circleville, Ohio, bipartisan efforts to reshore manufacturing, such as the CHIPS ACT, will fail. Democrats can’t say they’re bringing jobs back home when they’re simultaneously hobbling oil and gas production through regulation, he explains to voters.
"The president goes around the world on bended knee to every dictator and begs for oil and gas, and we’ve got plenty of it right here in our backyard," Vance said. "Without that energy, you’re not going to have great family farms. In our state, you’re not going to have Intel manufacturing chips."
Vance was joined by Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) at three rallies across the state on Saturday. Hawley’s appearance for Vance is the latest in a laundry list of prominent Republicans who have come to the Buckeye State, from Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) to Trump, in recent weeks to help drive GOP turnout.
"I was told all my life that 'so goes Ohio, so goes the nation,'" Hawley said in Circleville. "I know on Tuesday, you’re going to be a bellwether again."
Hawley at the rally, like Vance, focused on the issues that voters across the country name as their most pressing concerns: inflation and crime. But Hawley’s remarks also targeted Biden, who suffers from a 36 percent approval rating in the state. That fact, more than anything else, is why Republicans in the state are increasingly optimistic about Election Day.
"There is one thing I think Biden actually got right, when the man can complete a sentence," Hawley said. "He says this election is about the soul of America, he’s right about that."
"What we’re gonna tell him on Tuesday is we’re not the problem, he’s the problem," Hawley said.