COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The first debate between Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican JD Vance devolved quickly into attacks Monday, with the candidates for Ohio’s open U.S. Senate seat accusing each other of being responsible for job losses and putting party loyalty ahead of voters’ needs.
Vance said Ryan had supported policies as a congressman that led to a 10-year-old girl in Ohio being raped. Ryan said Vance had started a “fake nonprofit” to help people overcome addiction issues. The two accused each other of being beholden to their party, with Ryan calling Vance an “a— kisser” to former President Donald Trump at a recent rally and Vance saying Ryan’s 100% voting record with President Joe Biden means he’s not the reasonable moderate he says he is.
The face-off between Ryan, a 10-term congressman, and Vance, a venture capitalist and author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” for the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman became one of the most contentious debates of the general election season so far. The race is one of the most expensive and closely watched of the midterms, with Democrats viewing it as a possible pickup opportunity in November.
Both candidates sought to tailor their messages to the working-class voters who could determine the election.
During questioning about China, Ryan said Vance invested in China as a venture capitalist, the type of business move that exacerbated job losses in Ohio’s manufacturing base. “Here’s the problem: JD Vance is invested into companies in China,” Ryan said. “The problem we’re having now with inflation is our supply chains all went to China, and guys like him made a whole lot of money off that.”
Vance said it is Democratic economic policies that have harmed manufacturing, saying, “They have completely gone to war against America’s energy sector.”
“I wish you were the reasonable moderate you said you were, because then Youngstown may not have lost 50,000 manufacturing jobs during your 20 years,” Vance told Ryan.
On abortion, Vance did not answer whether he would support Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposed ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions. Vance said he thinks different states would likely want different laws but “some minimum national standard is totally fine with me.”
He called himself “pro-life” but said he has “always believed in reasonable exceptions.”
Ryan said he supports codifying the abortion rights established in Roe v. Wade, which was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. He said he opposes Ohio’s law banning most abortions after fetal cardiac activity has been detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy, which was blocked Friday.
“This is the largest government overreach in the history of our lifetime, a complete violation of personal freedom and liberty of women in this state,” he said. Ryan said Vance sides with extremists who would allow politicians into people’s personal lives.
Meanwhile, Vance said a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim should not have had to leave the state for an abortion, but he said the fact her attacker was in the country illegally was a failure of weak border policies.
“You voted so many times against the border wall funding, so many times for amnesty, Tim,” Vance said. “If you had done your job, she would have never been raped in the first place.”
On foreign policy, the pair parted ways on what the U.S. response should be if Russia were to launch nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Ryan said the U.S. should be prepared with a “swift and significant response,” while Vance countered that the United States needs a “foreign policy establishment that puts the interests of our citizens first.”
Ryan responded: “If JD had his way, Putin would be through Ukraine at this point. He’d be going into Poland.”
“If I had my way,” Vance retorted, “you’d put money at the southern border, Tim, instead of launching tons of money into Ukraine.”
Vance said, however, that Taiwan was a “much different situation” than Ukraine because of its importance to U.S. national security. “The reason why Taiwan is different is because they make so many of our semiconductors, our computer chips. The entire modern economy would collapse without it,” Vance said.
In the contest so far, Ryan has significantly outraised Vance in an increasingly Republican-leaning state that twice voted for Trump for president.
Ryan ended the last fundraising period that ended June 30 with $3.6 million in the bank, compared with Vance’s $630,000. Last week, the Ryan campaign reported raising $17.2 million between July 1 and the end of September. Vance, who received help in the primary from billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel, has not reported his latest totals.
While the general election debate between Ryan and Vance was acrimonious, it didn’t lead to a near-physical altercation, as an Ohio GOP Senate debate back in March during the primary season did. Former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and investment banker Mike Gibbons found themselves face to face on the debate stage, shouting at each other, while Vance told the two to stop fighting.
“Sit down. Come on,” Vance said, sitting in a row with the remaining candidates. “This is ridiculous.”
At the end of Monday’s debate, Vance and Ryan shook hands.