Ohio Dems press party to invest in high-stakes Senate race

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By Steve Peoples and Julie Carr Smyth | Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Democrats across Ohio are asking for help in the state Senate contest, fearing they could lose a winnable election unless national party leaders make major investments in the coming days.

So far, the most powerful groups in Democratic politics have prioritized Senate pickup opportunities in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania over Ohio, once a perennial swing state that veered into right in the Trump era. But on the eve of the 2022 midterm elections, some public polls suggest Ohio is as competitive as other swing states, leaving many Democrats here wondering why their party isn’t backing the presidential candidate more forcefully. Senate Tim Ryan.

“Ohio is no longer a priority. It’s a daunting task that we have to manage,” said State Rep. Dontavius ​​Jarrells, an ally of Ryan. “The reality is that without federal investments, he may not win.”

Ryan, a 10-term congressman, said in an interview that party leaders who believe he can’t win “have no idea what’s going on here.”

“I’ve accepted the fact that we probably won’t get any help. I play with the team we have on the pitch,” Ryan said. “I can’t think of anything more in Ohio than attacking the entire political establishment at this point.”

The tension is a reflection of the tough decisions Democratic leaders face about how to invest limited financial resources in the final weeks before the Nov. 8 election. With a very narrow majority in the Senate, any decision could have long-term consequences. If Republicans won even one seat, they would take control of the Senate — and with it, gain the power to control President Joe Biden’s judicial appointments and legislative agenda.

And if Ryan gets just a few points, there’s likely to be an intense post-election questioning about whether the party could have done more to win.

The financial disparities in racing are stark. Republican JD Vance, venture capitalist and author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” is the beneficiary of more than $30 million from outside Republican groups. They include organizations aligned with former President Donald Trump and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. By contrast, Ryan has benefited from less than $4 million in outside spending so far.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who has earned a reputation as a progressive Democrat who can still win over working-class voters in places like Ohio, said the party should do more.

“If we want to win in Ohio, we have to invest in Ohio,” he said. “Tim Ryan is running a great campaign because he’s showing voters he’s the candidate who’s on their side. That’s how you win elections.

David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which is the official campaign arm of Senate Democrats, said the organization was “proud” to support Ryan’s campaign with a coordinated investment of about $1. million in television spending that enabled the campaign to take advantage of lower ad rates for candidates.

There’s still a chance Democrats will find some extra money to help Ryan.

The Senate Majority PAC, by far the most influential super PAC in Senate Democratic politics, isn’t ruling out major investments in Ohio in the final days of the election, though the group has spent little there until recently. now compared to other key states. On Thursday, the group announced an additional $4 million investment in television advertising in North Carolina, bringing its total spending in the state to $15 million and more.

“Tim Ryan is running a remarkably strong campaign that resonates with Ohio voters of all political persuasions and puts Republicans on the defensive, while Vance’s weak candidacy has become a serious handicap for the GOP,” said JB Poersch, Senate Majority Chairman of the PAC. “We will continue to make strategic and effective decisions that put us in the best possible position to accomplish our mission: to defend our Democratic majority in the Senate.”

Another pro-Democrat group, the Save America Fund, has already spent $2.5 million on TV ads designed to help Ryan since August. The group discussed larger purchases with other PACs.

“We have many conversations about how Tim Ryan can win this race,” said Eric Hyers, a former colleague of Ryan’s campaign manager who runs the Save America Fund. “We’re all in on it.”

But there are no easy options for Democratic groups deciding where to spend their latest round of resources.

Democrats are defending vulnerable incumbent senators from Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire. They also invested heavily in overturning Republican-held seats in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Democratic officials privately note that Trump twice won Ohio by 8 points, reflecting the state’s Republican leanings. By comparison, Trump won North Carolina by less than 1 percentage point and lost Wisconsin by just over 1 percentage point.

National Democratic strategists also note that Ohio’s large working-class population has drifted sharply away from Democrats in recent years, despite Ryan’s best efforts to attract those voters.

That sentiment left Democrats in Ohio feeling like their national party was abandoning them.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” said Ohio-based Democratic strategist Cliff Schecter, conceding that national Democratic leaders have a tough job. “Tim Ryan doesn’t need a lot, just something. Do what you have to do. Find some extra cash. This race is incredibly winnable.

Some Republicans privately see Vance as a disappointing candidate, though most expect him to win due to the state’s recent Republican turn. He poorly tracked Ryan in fundraising, usually a strong indicator of a candidate’s strength. Ryan has raised over $21.5 million on his own, compared to $6.9 million for Vance.

As the race enters its final weeks, Vance is relying on Trump’s continued popularity in the state to maintain momentum, especially among undecided white working-class voters. Donald Trump Jr., one of Vance’s staunchest supporters, campaigned alongside the Ohio Republican last week.

But Vance’s relationship with Trump is complicated.

Vance was initially a so-called “Never Trumper” before Trump won the president. The former president then botched Vance’s name at a rally during the spring primary. And at Trump’s last rally in Ohio for Vance, the former president joked that Vance is “kissing my a—” for political support.

Ryan echoed that comment during a debate this week, calling Vance “a—kisser.” In the interview, Ryan said he was considering renaming his campaign bus “The A—Kicker Express.”

He also made it clear that while he would welcome domestic Democratic dollars, he did not want Biden campaigning on his behalf.

“It’s nothing personal. It’s like I’m running in Ohio. I know Ohio. I know the message,” Ryan said. “There’s no one who can express that better than me. And every time you bring people in, you go after their enemies, they may not say it the way you want, and we’ve had a very disciplined campaign for the past year and a half, I just want to make sure that I’m the face, I am the voice.

Ryan added, “And I want the people of Ohio to know that I’m self-sufficient.”

Yet many of Ryan’s allies continue to seek help from the national party.

Former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said the DSCC needed to step up and support Ryan, who “is fighting as effectively as anyone could” without national money.

“It’s so similar to what happened in 2016, it’s kind of hard to watch,” Pepper said, referring to former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s loss to Republican Sen. of the Senate race that year. “It’s when the polls are tied, our candidate has more money and is a stronger candidate, and when the Republicans throw a punch, we walk away. That’s a terrible signal to send.
In 2016, Strickland ultimately lost to Portman by 21 points. Next in Pennsylvania, Republican Senator Pat Toomey won by less than 2.

People reported from New York.

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