Vance, a first-time candidate, is a venture capitalist known for his memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” about growing up amid generational poverty and the opioid epidemic in Middletown, Ohio.
Vance only became the clear favorite for the GOP nomination once Donald Trump intervened, choosing Vance to endorse in a crowded field. The former president praised Vance at a rally Monday while acknowledging that Vance didn’t really need his help.
“J.D., you have some very good polls,” Trump said at an airport in Vandalia, Ohio, before teasing his 2024 plans. “What the hell am I doing here?”
Ohio was never going to be an easy — or even feasible — pickup for Democrats, given the political realignment that’s taken hold over the past decade. After voting for Barack Obama twice, Ohioans came out in large numbers for Trump in both of his presidential bids.
Ryan was still a large enough threat that national Republicans redirected some of their resources from other battleground states to Ohio — while national Democrats pretty much ignored Ryan’s race, despite seeing it as a blueprint for how they might win elsewhere in future elections.
At his rally, Trump didn’t let Vance forget that he wasn’t always down with the “Make America Great Again” movement (something Trump famously alluded to at one of his earlier rallies for Vance, spawning a memorable Ryan debate line and campaign merch). Vance needed to overcome his earlier dislike of the former president to win his blessing. The rally showed just how far Vance had come from the days when he thought Trump was “noxious” and an “idiot.”
“No more RINOs, no more people who compromise and lose our country in the process,” said Vance, who projected confidence Monday about his own race and a “red wave” in Congress.
Ryan is a longtime representative from the Mahoning Valley, where white, working-class voters flocked to the Republican Party in 2016. It’s the same phenomenon that Vance explained in his memoir, which came out the year Trump won the White House.
Recognizing the potency of economic issues, Ryan attempted to win Republican votes by running commercials on Fox News and aligning himself with Trump on trade and manufacturing. Trump had apparently taken notice.
“His opponent is making me like I’m his best friend. I don’t know this guy, but he’s far left,” Trump said of Ryan, whom he noted votes in lockstep with Democrats.
It’s not clear what’s next for Ryan, whose current congressional seat was essentially eliminated in redistricting. Ryan ran for president briefly in 2020, drawing attention to economic issues in the heartland.
Tuesday’s outcome doesn’t bode well for Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is up for reelection in two years. Brown, a progressive populist with an economic message similar to Ryan’s, has been able to withstand the red shift in Ohio up to now. Other races also predicted trouble for Brown: Ohio’s gubernatorial race between incumbent Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, was expected to be a blowout for DeWine.