Ohio Senate candidates J.D. Vance, Tim Ryan appeal to moderates at Monday debate

On issues like extremism, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, immigration and abortion, Ohio senate candidates J.D. Vance and Tim Ryan appeared to shift their stances to appeal to moderate voters.


Courtesy of WJW-TV Fox 8

Ohio candidates for U.S. Senate Rep. Tim Ryan (D) and J.D. Vance (R) attempted to tone down references to hot-button issues at an October debate.

CLEVELAND – On Monday, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate J.D. Vance and Democratic candidate Representative Tim Ryan went head-to-head in a debate hosted by Fox 8, with both candidates appearing to make a concerted effort to appeal to moderate voters.   

During the debate, Ryan said that he supported many of former President Donald Trump’s trade policies and said he shared Republicans’ desires for a stronger border.   

At the same time, Vance shifted away from some of his more hard-line conservative stances shared in previous remarks.  

While both appeared to tone down references to divisive policies in their own remarks, that did not stop both candidates from labeling their opponent as extremist.   

Ryan said Vance is associating himself with “dangerous” Republicans, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom he called “the absolute looniest politician in America,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whom he argued wants to ban books, and Senator Lindsey Graham, who supports a national abortion ban.   

Ryan said unlike those conservatives championing more far-right policies, he represents a wider majority.  

“This is a dangerous group and we do need to confront it,” Ryan said. “And that’s why I’m running to represent the exhausted majority, Democrats, Republicans and independents against the extremists.”  

After pointing out that Ryan supported the Equality Act, which Vance said would defund the free and reduced school lunch programming for schools that do not allow transgender female students to participate in girls’ sports, Vance said that Ryan is the extremist.   

While the Equality Act, which has passed the House of Representatives but has an uncertain future in the Senate, does not specifically mention school lunch funding, its language does include sexual orientation and gender identity as a category protected under existing nondiscrimination laws and would explicitly ban exclusion of transgender individuals from programs that are federally funded or receive federal assistance.  

Regarding the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, the candidates started at diverging positions, but ultimately said that while they disapprove of Putin’s actions, they would prefer to avoid direct military intervention   

During the debate, Ryan said he wants an “aggressive” response to Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian territory. When asked for clarification in a post-debate follow-up question from The Exponent, he said he advocates for a strong response, but ended his answer with a sentiment parallel to Vance’s stance.   

“I do not want American troops over there,” Ryan said.   

Prior to the debate, on an episode of far-right commentator Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, Vance said of the international conflict: “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another … I’m sick of Joe Biden focusing on the border of a country I don’t care about while he lets the border of his own country become a total war zone.”   

Vance moderated his position during Monday’s debate. Instead of explicit, apathetic non-intervention, he focused on urging cautiousness when dealing with Russia.   

“We need to de-escalate the situation,” Vance said. “Vladmir Putin launching nuclear weapons against Ukraine is something we have to do everything possible to prevent. Everybody in the Biden administration seems to be sleep walking into a nuclear war.”  

Whereas prior to the debate, Ryan called former President Trump’s construction of the border wall a “vanity project,” on Monday, he displayed a moderated position supporting both physical barriers and an increase in funding for border patrol.   

“If you can put a barrier up somewhere that can prevent people from coming over, then I’m all for it”. Ryan said. “But, El Chapo digs under that barrier as well which is why I’ve always supported increased funding for border patrol.”  

Vance said both candidates agree on the importance of a strong border, but he claimed the border has become less secure throughout Ryan’s 20 years in public office.  

“Tim Ryan has had 20 years to get something done and just hasn’t done it,” Vance said.   

On the issue of abortion, Vance again moderated his stance from previous comments. Last year, responding to a question of whether abortion bans should include exceptions for rape or incest, Vance said that “two wrongs don’t make a right” – comments that were quickly pounced on in the aftermath of the infamous story of the 10-year-old Ohio girl who had to travel to Indiana to receive an abortion after being raped was reported this July.   

During the debate, Vance said he thinks the 10-year-old should have been able to receive an abortion if chosen by her and her parents, but he did not outline what specific instances would warrant exceptions to his anti-abortion stance.  

Correction: Due to an error during the editing process, a prior version of this article misquoted Rep. Tim Ryan’s comments concerning Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green. He called her “the absolute looniest politician in America,” not “a crazy politician.” The Exponent regrets the error.