Three Takeaways From the Final U.S. Senate Debate Between J.D. Vance and Tim Ryan

Abortion, ass-kissing and inflation took center stage

click to enlarge Ohio U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Tim Ryan, left, and Republican candidate J.D. Vance, right. - Screenshot courtesy of WFMJ broadcast of debate in Youngstown on Oct. 17, 2022.
Screenshot courtesy of WFMJ broadcast of debate in Youngstown on Oct. 17, 2022.
Ohio U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Tim Ryan, left, and Republican candidate J.D. Vance, right.

Heated exchanges bookended Monday’s U.S. Senate debate in Youngstown. Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance criticized one another sharply on their records and stances. Digging into those conflicts offers a glimpse into their contrasting plans for the U.S. Senate.

Abortion: clarifying and obscuring positions

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Democrats around the country have attempted to make abortion a key campaign issue. Polling has repeatedly suggested it is among the most important issues to voters, but far removed from their top concern — the economy.

Ryan reiterated his support for codifying Roe v. Wade and warned Republicans want to institute a nationwide abortion ban.

“If the Republicans control the House and the Senate, we won’t be able to codify Roe v. Wade, which I think is the smart move, to move us away from chaos and back to some stability,” Ryan said. “So I will spend all my time trying to fight a national abortion ban.”

What that legislation might look like, however, is fraught. Ryan has co-sponsored a measure which would ensure a right to abortion before fetal viability. There is a competing measure, though, which could give states the flexibility to pass restrictions limiting access to the procedure as some states have done for decades.

After equivocating at the previous debate, Vance indicated Monday he would vote for a 15-week national abortion ban proposed by Lindsey Graham. But Vance also resisted taking a specific stance on what circumstances should allow people to get an abortion. He raised the idea of an exception for cases of incest.

“An incest exception looks different at three weeks of pregnancy versus 39 weeks of pregnancy,” Vance said. “So, I actually don’t think that you can say on a debate stage, every single thing that you’re going to vote for when it comes to an abortion piece of legislation.”

Vance argued instead that voters should look at his principles. As he describes it he wants to “save as many lives as possible,” ensure women aren’t “pressured” into abortions and they have adequate access to health care.

It’s worth noting Republican-led legislation to fund “crisis pregnancy centers” ensure people are often pressured not to have abortions. And an NPR analysis found the states with the stiffest abortion restrictions also have some of the most limited access to health care in the country.

Vance also turned the issue back on Ryan, painting him as an “extremist” who would allow “abortion without limits, up to 40 weeks of pregnancy.” The measure Ryan co-sponsored does allow for abortion after fetal viability if the mother’s life is in danger.

In May Vance made a similar critique on Twitter posting a clip of Ryan on Fox News. But in that interview, Ryan made an argument similar to Vance’s — that it’s difficult if not impossible to presuppose all the circumstances in legislation.

“You and I sitting here,” he told Fox’s Bret Baier, “can’t account for all of the different scenarios that a woman dealing with the complexities of a pregnancy are going through, how can you and I figure that out?”

Inflation v. Investment

The nominees took on economic issues as well offering different perspectives on federal spending in recent years. Vance criticized the Biden administration for fueling inflation specifically calling out the Inflation Reduction Act.

“First of all, we have to appreciate that we’re talking about $2 trillion in additional federal spending,” Vance said. “That’s not going to reduce inflation that’s adding more fuel to the fire of inflation.”

Prior to the pandemic, President Trump had already added $4.7 trillion to the national debt according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. By the time he left office, COVID relief measures that pushed that figure all the way to $7.8 trillion. CFRB estimates the Biden administration has so far added $4.8 trillion to the debt, but Ryan characterizes that spending as investments that have encouraged further private development.

“Do you not see what’s happening out in Lordstown?” Ryan asked Vance. “We have four vehicles out there—a truck, two cars, and a tractor. We have a battery plant across the street that was (a) $2.3 billion investment. This is the future for us, J.D.”

“Solar, gas, batteries, electric vehicles,” Ryan listed. “Honda, Ford, big companies investing into communities like ours. Foxconn has more cars out there. I don’t know how much clearer this could be, but this has been a good thing.”

Ryan isn’t the only one bragging about those investments. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is running ads taking credit for the same projects while deriding the federal spending that greased the skids. He’s also running ads directly criticizing his Democratic opponent Nan Whaley for favoring Biden’s American Rescue Plan. DeWine regularly takes credit for handing out funding from that measure.

In addition to reining in spending, Vance argued the Biden administration should loosen restrictions on the energy sector. He contended federal policy limiting pipelines and oil and gas leases have contributed to higher energy prices. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, meanwhile, pointed last month to increased global demand and reduced supplies due to the war in Ukraine.

Conflicting portrayals

The same way that Vance and Ryan draw disparate conclusions about the same spending, they offer conflicting versions of each other’s record.

Vance criticized Ryan for voting with Speaker Pelosi “100% of the time,” and criticized Ryan’s legislative accomplishments.

“He’s been in office for 20 years, (and) he’s passed five pieces of legislation, three of those pieces of legislation were renaming post offices in the Youngstown area.”

Ryan contends his accomplishments are not in the measures he’s sponsored but in the provisions he’s helped negotiate into legislation. He cited “buy American” language in the infrastructure law as an example, as well as natural gas and deficit reduction provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act.

“I got a lot of stuff in that bill that are priorities for Ohio,” he explained. “Of course you’re going to vote for the bill. That’s how the process works.”

Ryan touted his ability to work inside the legislative system with an eye toward compromise. In contrast, he repeatedly painted Vance as an extremist. He cited Vance’s rejection of recent bipartisan efforts like this year’s gun reform measure.

“(Republican Sen.) John Cornyn from Texas is for this. (Sen.) Rob Portman’s for it. Strong Second Amendment guys — but he was against it,” Ryan said. “We have to come together. You have to find points of agreement here. You’re not always going to get your way.”

Vance argued Ryan’s efforts simply haven’t been good enough, and he pitches himself as “a new direction.” He described going to a nearby diner before the debate and claimed a number of voters, some of them Democrats, approached him.

“You know what they said, Tim? They said Tim Ryan has been in office for 20 years, and he hasn’t done his damn job. That’s a direct quote from a union steel worker that you represent,” Vance said. “If you were half as good of a legislator as you pretend to be, Youngstown wouldn’t have lost 50,000 jobs and those steel workers would not be coming up to me telling me you failed them.”

In the final three weeks, the campaigns are fanning out across the state attempting to hammer home the appeals they made Monday in Youngstown.

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.
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