Jul 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Tim Ryan's Ohio ad play: Run to the right

JD Vance and Tim Ryan
J.D. Vance (left) and Tim Ryan. Photos: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democrat Tim Ryan is using his big fundraising advantage over Republican J.D. Vance in Ohio's Senate race to define himself as conservative-friendly through TV ads targeting GOP audiences — while Vance's campaign remains silent.

Driving the news: Ryan’s latest ad, airing exclusively on Fox News last week, shows him winning warm reviews from the conservative network’s hosts — including Tucker Carlson. 

Why it matters: It's an unorthodox approach that reflects how significantly this congressman of two decades must disrupt expectations to stand a chance in the state.

  • That's the reality even against a rival with mixed reviews inside the GOP like Vance, a venture capitalist and bestselling memoirist who openly opposed former President Trump before embracing him.
  • Once a swing state, Ohio now clearly favors Republicans. Trump won by eight points in 2020. The governor, attorney general and secretary of state all are Republican, as is the legislative majority.

Between the lines: General election voters don't traditionally pay much attention to races until after Labor Day. But Ryan is seeing if he can use summer's sleepy months to define Vance — and himself — with Republican audiences while he has the airwaves alone.

By the numbers: Ryan’s campaign has spent $6.4 million on television ads since winning the primary. Vance hasn’t spent any money on television spots since emerging as the GOP nominee.

  • Ryan has aired TV ads saying "it is us versus China" and featuring a local sheriff accusing Vance of proposing to defund the police. His first general election ad dubbed Vance as an elitist who’s a “hit at Washington cocktail parties.” 
  • Vance's biggest funder, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, hasn’t spent on behalf of the Republican nominee since he won the hotly contested May primary.
  • Thiel is waiting to reengage until after his other endorsed Senate candidate, Blake Masters, finishes the Arizona Senate primary in August, according to a Republican strategist allied with Vance. 
  • Protect Ohio Values, the pro-Vance super PAC that Thiel has funded, has only raised $675,800 since Vance won the Republican primary, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

What we're watching: Ryan’s campaign announced raising $9.1 million in the second fundraising quarter, a massive haul that broke fundraising records in Ohio.

  • Vance raised $1 million for his campaign account and brought in an additional $1.3 million through two joint fundraising committees and a leadership PAC. 
  • But the $726,000 raised through the leadership PAC, typically used as a vehicle to steer money to allies, can’t be used to spend for television advertisements, limiting its utility.
  • Republican Senate sources are expecting Ryan to maintain a significant fundraising advantage throughout the campaign, with Vance reliant on Thiel’s largesse to close the gap.

What they're saying: A spokesman for Vance's super PAC told Axios Ryan is "earning a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of Democrat money pits," arguing the congressman's huge spending has not manifested in the polls.

  • "[N]o amount of money can hide Tim Ryan’s record of voting for the failed Biden agenda 100% of the time," the spokesman added.

The bottom line: Whether or not he can beat the odds, Ryan has achieved his success so far by running to President Biden’s right and competing for culturally conservative voters in a state that’s been hostile for his party lately.

  • That approach could serve as a model for Democrats in certain swing states or districts who tailor appeals to moderates over the progressive base.
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