Youngstown, Ohio – Senate candidates Democrat Rep.and Republican faced off Monday night in their , clashing over the blockbuster issues of this election – the economy, abortion, the border and the attack on the – as well as who would best serve the state.
Formerin 2020 but the race to fill the seat being vacated by retiring moderate Republican Sen. Rob Portman this year has proven to be competitive with just over three weeks to go before Election Day.
At the debate hosted by WFJM in Youngstown, the candidates spoke over each other and accused one another of putting their party first. It comes exactly one week after the candidates appeared alongside each other for their testy first debate, where they clashed over the economy, abortion rights and extremism.
Ryan, who is currently serving his tenth term in the House representing Ohio's 13th Congressional District, which includes Youngstown, has focused his campaign on the economy and manufacturing – while also taking aim at China. He has attempted to distance himself from Democrats in control in Washington as they face headwinds heading into the midterms amid soaring inflation and with President Joe's Biden's approval rating being underwater in the state. He instead has painted his Republican opponent as an extremist who left Ohio for California and is only in the race for himself.
Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the memoir "Hillbilly Elegy," grew up in Middletown, Ohio. Heafter being backed by Trump and billionaire Peter Thiel. On the campaign trail, Vance links Ryan to Mr. Biden, and has questioned what Ryan has to show for his 20 years in Congress.
"If you want to run against Nancy Pelosi, move back to San Francisco and run against Nancy Pelosi. You're running against me," Ryan shot back in response to Vance tying him to House Democratic party leadership. Ryan pointed out that he challenged Pelosi's leadership in 2016.
The pair also clashed on abortion rights. In the previous debate, Vance said the 10-year-old Ohio girl who had to go to another state to get an abortion – a story that made national headlines – should have been able to get an abortion. On Monday, he was asked what other exceptions he would support, having previously rejected exceptions for rape and incest.
"My basic view is we need to protect life in this country," Vance said, and he noted that it would likely be dangerous for a 10-year-old to carry a pregnancy to term. He also reiterated his that an undocumented immigrant was arrested for raping the 10-year-old girl, accusing Ryan and Democrats of not acting on border security.
When asked about Sen. Lindsey Graham's 15-week federal abortion ban, Vance responded "if you can't support legislation like that, you are making the United States the most barbaric pro-aboriton regime anywhere in the entire world."
Last week, the House Jan. 6 committee voted to subpoena Trump. Ryan said Trump should respond to the subpoena. Vance said he would not pretend to give the former president legal advice.
"The Jan. 6 committee has shown from the very beginning that it's not interested in the truth, that it's interested in a political hit job that goes back to four years ago," Vance said. He went on to accuse Democrats of being obsessed with the idea that Trump somehow had the election stolen by the Russians.
"There's been a nonstop political effort to not honor the election of 2016 but I think that's just as much of a threat to democracy as the violence on Jan. 6 January 6th," Vance said.
The candidates also clashed over immigration. Vance accused Democratic leadership of wanting more immigrants, claiming it would mean Republicans are never able to win another election. Ryan responded accusing Vance of running around with those talking about replacement theory.
"You can believe in a border without being a racist, you can believe in the country without being a racist and this just shows how desperate this guy is for political power," Vance responded – invoking his three biracial children.
"I think I struck a nerve with this guy," Ryan countered.
With the economy being the most pressing issue for voters across the country, the debate began with a question about inflation. Ryan defended voting for the Inflation Reduction Act – pointing to investments coming back to Ohio, and he said he also advocated for tax cuts for working people. Vance argued the U.S. needed to stop spending money and for the U.S. to "really open up America's energy sector."
Ohio is often considered a battleground state, with former President Obama having won it twice and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown was reelected in 2018. But Ohio has been trending more red in recent years, and Trump won it by eight points in both 2016 and 2020. Despite the political climate, the Senate race has proven to be competitive according to the latest polls. The Real Clear Politics average has Vance up by just two percentage points.
While Republicans are still positioned to retake the majority in the House in November according to the latest CBS News Battleground Tracker, the Senate remains a toss up. Several other Senate races are often considered more competitive by strategists as Democrats look to expand their majority in the 50-50 split Senate, but tens of millions are being spent in the Ohio Senate race in the final stretch of the election season.
And as candidates make their final pitches to voters, early voting is already underway in Ohio both by mail and in-person. At least 812,000 Ohioans requested absentee ballots. Those ballots started going out Sept. 23.
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