COLUMBUS, Ohio – Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican writer J.D. Vance each got 22 minutes on national television on Tuesday, via an Ohio U.S. Senate forum in Columbus hosted by Fox News.
The forum was the third time Ryan and Vance had appeared in a TV program geared toward educating voters in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is retiring.
But unlike the two past debates in Ohio, they appeared in two separate segments, rather than together on stage. It also was primarily geared toward Fox News’s conservative audience, and featured national moderators rather than Ohio-based ones.
Here are five takeaways from the forum, held just one week from the Nov. 8 election:
1. Tim Ryan gets grilled
Ryan has the inherently tougher political sell to make, since his party controls the White House and voters have said repeatedly that high inflation is their number-one concern this election.
He used his time to pitched the audience on the Inflation Reduction Act, which he said would help reduce inflation in the long-term in the United States while conceding it would have little effect in the short-term. He also defended the provision in the bill that would hire 87,000 additional IRS employees, which Ryan said would help prevent the rich from evading tax laws.
But the debate’s moderators, Fox News anchors Bret Bauer and Martha MacCallum, gave Ryan an especially thorough grilling on his past statements, many of which originated from his short-lived run for president in 2019.
Unlike now, when Ryan is trying to win over Republican-leaningvoters in Ohio, Ryan the presidential candidate was courting Democratic primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. And unlike then, when there was greater bipartisan support for reducing incarceration rates, the political climate in this election seems to favor “tough on crime” policies.
The moderators asked Ryan about his past support for releasing nonviolent offenders from prison. Ryan said Tuesday his focus would be those convicted of marijuana crimes, since he said he thinks marijuana should be legalized. Asked about expressing support for “defunding” the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency – the basis for which was a 2019 ACLU presidential candidate questionnaire in which Ryan said he would cut the agency’s detention budget – Ryan, who has criticized the “defund the police’ movement on the left, denied having done so.
Moderators also asked Ryan about comments he made last month in a TV interview in which he said the “extremist movement” within the Republican Party needed to be “confronted and killed.”
“Maybe it wasn’t a great choice of words. We absolutely need to stop and confront the extremist movement,” Ryan said.
At one point, some in the audience booed and jeered Ryan after he said pro-Trump rioters killed a police officer at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The police officer who died the day of the riot passed away due to a stroke, according to a medical examiner’s report, although the medical examiner said “all that transpired” that day contributed to the officer’s death.
“I’m happy to have this conversation. I’m not afraid to have this conversation,” Ryan said. “These are the conversations we need to have in this country. I welcome you guys. Let’s just be respectful, but I’m not afraid to stand here and defend my position.”
2. J.D. Vance gets kid gloves
In contrast, the anchors did not ask Vanceany follow-up questions, other than in response to an audience question about what the hardest manual labor job he’d ever had.
After Vance recounted working for a tile-distribution company after college, Baier reminded him he also served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Iraq war.
“You actually gave me a softball,” Vance joked. “And what I should have talked about was the Marine Corps.”
The toughest question Vance got was one from MacCallum about the defunct charity Vance founded to fight the opioid crisis that has been the subject of a barrage of attack ads from the Ryan campaign.
Ryan has accused Vance of using the charity to launch his political career, since tax records show it paid tens of thousands of dollars to Jai Chabria, a political operative who now is running Vance’s Senate campaign. Ryan also has criticized Vance for using the charity to fund a fellowship for an addiction specialist who had raised doubtsabout the role of drug manufacturersin the opioid crisis while citing research from Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin.
Vance responded that he disbanded the charity, into which he put $80,000 of his own money, because of his Senate run, partially for financial reasons.
“I can’t continue to focus on it and so that’s why we decided to wind it down,” Vance said.
The moderators didn’t follow up.
3. Abortion comes up again
Like the Youngstown debate that squeezed a different answer out of Vance when it comes to abortion, the Fox News moderators were able to do something similar with Ryan.
During his Senate campaign, Ryan has said he supports the legal standard under Roe v. Wade, which permitted restrictions on abortion late in pregnancy, while also suggesting he doesn’t think the government should play a role in regulating abortion at all.
“In Ohio abortion is banned after 22 weeks,” Baier said. “I’ve asked you before, what is your limit?
Ryan responded: “I believe that later in the term, there should not be an abortion unless there is a medical emergency.”
Moderators also asked Ryan why he opposes Ohio’s current abortion law. Ryan responded because it does not contain a rape exemption.
But the moderators did not dig deeper into a different Republican-passed law– which Vance has praised – that bans abortion in Ohio as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The “Heartbeat” law went into effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned. The law is on hold again while a challenge in state courts plays out.
In a different section, moderators did ask Vance about a Republican proposal to ban abortion nationally after 15 weeks, which Vance said he supports. Butt hey did not ask him if he would support banning abortion earlier – like Ohio’s “Heartbeat” law – or why Vance has previously said he doesn’t support exemptions in abortion restrictions for rape or incest.
4. Vance the unifier
During the Republican U.S. Senate primary, Vance ran a strident, hard-right campaign in which he pledged to aggressively investigate Democrats, including the handling of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol rioters, and backed the firing of tens of thousands of government employees. He also called to defund the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and echoed former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that he lost the election due to widespread voter fraud.
But during Tuesday’s forum, Vance made a focus on talking about policies he could practically accomplish as a U.S. senator by working across the aisle with Biden and other Democrats.
Vance said he thought Republican majorities in Congress could force Biden to work with them to address high gas prices and security at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We need to be willing to reach across the aisle and say, if you’re willing to do things to get things done in this country, we’re willing to work with you,” Vance said.
An audience member asked Vance about his “stolen election” claim, and asked him if he would accept the results of the election if he were to lose to Ryan.
First, Vance clearly said he would accept the results if he lost.
“If things don’t go as I expect, I’ll support the guy who wins I’ll try to be as supportive as I possibly can even if we’re going to disagree on big issues,” Vance said.
Vance also raised some concerns over the 2020 election, including social media companies’ decision to suppress a New York Post story that came out in the election’s final weeks about Biden’s son, Hunter.
“I think advocating thosecommon-sense measures doesn’t mean, as some folks in the media say, you’re an election denier, I just think other states could do things a lot better,” Vance said.
5. Pelosi attack
During his portion of the show, Ryan brought up how some political figures on the right, including Donald Trump, Jr., a close Vance political ally, have mocked the attack this week on Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, at the couple’s California home. Mr. Pelosi, 82, remains in the hospital with a fractured skull.
Ryan called the attack “atrocious” and pointed out that Gov. Mike DeWine had made a public statement condemning the attack while Vance hadn’t.
“J.D. Vance was silent, and I just think this is a tragedy,” Ryan said.
“I’ve condemned the violence against Paul Pelosi from the very beginning.,” Vance said during his segment. “I think it’s preposterous. I think it’s disgusting. And I think it’s all something that all of us should condemn. What I’ve also said is that I think the effort to turn this into a political issue, actually is a real problem.”
Vance then pivoted into pointing out the attacker, a Canada native, was living in the U.S. illegally.
“Mr. Pelosi was attacked by a person who is an illegal alienin our country and should have never been here in the first place,” Vance said. “My view very simply, is that we need to deport violent illegal aliens.”