HOWARD WILKINSON: Republicans Are “Scared to Death That Vance Could Lose”

A new column from WVXU’s Howard Wilkinson lays out why Republicans in Ohio and around the country are “scared to death that Vance could lose.” Even as Mitch McConnell and outside groups invest upwards of $32 million in an “unexpected expense” to salvage JD Vance’s “concerning” campaign, Vance still isn’t sticking the landing. 

It’s clear that Tim has the momentum coming into the final stretch of the campaign. New public polling continues to show Tim maintaining a lead over JD Vance, and numerous leading elections experts have moved their ratings for Ohio’s U.S. Senate race race in favor of Tim,  prompting national Republicans to spend tens of millions to jam the airwaves with attack ads that include “doubtful accusations at best and at worst half-truths and lies.”

While members of JD Vance’s own party here in Ohio and nationally are recruiting top leaders to “kick him in the ass” to step his game up, the attacks “seem to roll off [Tim] like water off a duck’s back.” 

Vance famously likes to keep a “light schedule,” and spends the bulk of his time hiding from Ohioans in places like Nantucket, New York, and Miami, but t when he does finally make it out to Ohio, he shows just how little he knows about the state by scheduling the biggest event his campaign has held in months at the exact same time as The Ohio State University kicks off against the University of Toledo. 

Read on to see why it’s really no wonder his attacks are falling flat.

Read more from WVXU’s Howard Wilkinson

  • You couldn’t blame Tim Ryan, the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s open U.S. Senate seat, waking up some mornings feeling like a man under siege.
  • But the attacks coming his way from a variety of sources seem to roll off him like water off a duck’s back. He thumbs his nose at all of them.
  • Since Labor Day, the 30-second attack ads have been flooding the airwaves, coming at Ryan from all sides on multiple issues — some of them doubtful accusations at best and at worst half-truths and lies.
  • To Ryan, they are, as he says in his response ad, “bullsh*t.”
  • Vance uses some grainy video from a 2019 speech Ryan made at an historically Black college in Georgia, back when he was in a short-lived bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. “The current criminal justice system is racist,” Ryan says in the video. “I believe in my heart that it’s the new Jim Crow.”
  • Ryan’s campaign says he was talking about things like racial disparities in sentencing and that the clip is taken out of context. Vance’s campaign says it was an attack on police because they are part of the criminal justice system.
  • A Suffolk University poll, done for the USA Today Ohio Network, shows the Vance-Ryan race as a dead heat, with a one point advantage for Ryan — well within the margin of error.
  • I asked a spokesman for the Vance campaign for a single instance where Ryan acted to “defund the police.” None was forthcoming.
  • So why are Vance and his Super PAC allies spending incredible amounts of money to attack Ryan? There’s one reason and one reason only: They are scared to death that Vance could lose the seat now held by Republican Rob Portman. 
  • That’s why Trump is holding a rally with Vance Saturday night in Youngstown, Ryan’s backyard.
  • The rally hasn’t started yet and it is already in trouble. People all over Ohio are laughing at the tone-deafness of holding a political rally at the very same time the Ohio State Buckeyes will be kicking off their game against Toledo in Ohio Stadium.
  • So Vance gets a rally with Trump — who will mention him a couple of times in passing and then talk for hours about himself — while most of Ohio will be watching the Buckeyes. Brilliant.
  • It probably also explains why Ryan — who will no doubt go to the Buckeyes game Saturday night — uses football as a theme for his response to the barrage of attack ads.
  • “The question is whether Tim Ryan can hold up now that the Republican money spigots have been turned on,” [Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball] said. “There’s a lot at stake here. A lot more than we might have thought in the beginning.”