Democrat Tim Ryan called his Republican opponent J.D. Vance a Donald Trump “ass kisser” in the first debate Monday night between the two U.S. Senate candidates from Ohio while also emphasizing areas such as trade and immigration on which he and the former president seem to agree.
“Ohio needs an ass kicker, not an ass kisser,” Ryan, a congressman from the Youngstown area, told Vance in what instantly became the most viral moment from the debate in Cleveland.
“It’s a well-rehearsed line, Tim,” Vance said under his breath after Ryan’s zinger.
Ryan’s line was referring to an almost exact quote from Trump during a September rally for Vance, a former “Never Trumper” who nonetheless won the GOP primary with Trump’s endorsement.
“Trump took J.D. Vance’s dignity from him on the stage in Youngstown. Then J.D. Vance got back up on stage and started shaking his hand. ... I don’t know anybody I went to high school with that would allow somebody to take their dignity like that and then get back up on stage,” Ryan said.
“We need leaders who have the courage to take on their own party, and I’ve proven that. [Vance] was called an ass kisser by the former president.”
Ryan and Vance, who are locked in a closer-than-expected race to replace retiring Republican Rob Portman in a red-leaning former swing state, spent the majority of the hourlong debate trying to paint each other as extremists. Ryan has made that argument over the airwaves while Vance has attempted to tie Ryan to President Joe Biden, who lost Ohio by 8 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election.
“Tim Ryan, who runs all these TV commercials saying he wants to appeal to Trump voters, wants to appeal to Republicans, also says he wanted to kill and confront ... the MAGA movement. That’s not exactly the rhetoric of a unifier,” said Vance, who also accused Ryan of being “extremist” for supporting the Equality Act, a bill that bans discrimination based on gender and sexuality orientation.
Ryan said that Vance is “running around with Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida who wants to ban books; running around with Lindsey Graham, who wants a national abortion ban. You’re running around with Marjorie Taylor Greene, who’s the absolute looniest politician in America. This is a dangerous group, and we do need to confront it. That’s why I’m running to represent the exhausted majority — Democrats, Republicans and independents.”
The congressman, a former presidential candidate, is one of the few Democrats who are trying not only to distance themselves from Biden but also to win over Trump voters.
Several times, Ryan highlighted areas in which he and Trump share common ground, including support for trade tariffs on China and continuing to build some of Trump’s wall at the U.S.-Mexico border — issues that strike a nerve with conservative Midwestern voters concerned about manufacturing erosion and an illegal drug trade fueled by smuggling.
“I have always supported strong investments into our defense, including President Trump’s defense budget, President Trump’s initiative with the Space Force,” Ryan said.
He said that Vice President Kamala Harris, who is overseeing immigration strategy at the souther border for the Biden administration, was mistaken when she called the border “secure” last month.
“Kamala Harris is absolutely wrong on that. It’s not secure. We have a lot of work to do,” said Ryan, who also mentioned that Biden shouldn’t run for another term because it’s time for a new generation to take over the Democratic Party.
Both Ryan and Vance accused each other of having radical views on abortion, using as a post-Roe touchstone the case of a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio who was forced to travel to neighboring Indiana to obtain an abortion.
“The thing they never mentioned is that poor girl was raped by an illegal alien, somebody that should have never been in this state in the first place,” Vance said, referring to the undocumented immigrant accused of raping the child. “You voted so many times against border wall funding, so many times for amnesty. Tim, if you had done your job, she would have never been raped in the first place.”
Vance downplayed a quote he gave to Spectrum News last year, calling the circumstances around rape and incest “inconvenient” when it comes to abortion rights.
“I’ve always believed in reasonable exceptions. This is a misrepresentation of my view,” he said.
Vance, a venture capitalist who chronicled his upbringing in Middletown, Ohio, in the memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” and now lives in Cincinnati, also defended his ties to Ohio and an addiction nonprofit he founded that reporting has shown did little during its few years in existence.
“My mom struggled with addiction for a big chunk of my early childhood, and I’m very proud to say, by the way, she’s been clean and sober for seven years. I’m sure she’s watching right now,” Vance said. “I love you, Mom.”
“What have you actually done to reduce the flow of fentanyl so that people like my family are not as affected by this terrible addiction crisis?” he asked Ryan.