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Tim Ryan, J.D. Vance face off on economy, abortion, politics in Ohio U.S. Senate debate

Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican JD Vance, in a lighter moment at the first of two planned debates - this one at the studios of Fox 8 News in Cleveland.
Fox 8, Cleveland
Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance, in a lighter moment at the first of two planned debates — this one at the studios of Fox 8 News in Cleveland.

The candidates in Ohio’s close and expensive U.S. Senate race in Ohio faced off on abortion, inflation, defense of Ukraine and Taiwan and other key issues in the first of two planned debates, this one in Cleveland.

While the candidates are courting voters in a state that went for Donald Trump in two presidential elections, they sparred over questions about politics and the former president.

Political observers have noted both Republican J.D. Vance and Democrat Tim Ryan have been sounding the same themes in this campaign as they chase voters in a state that picked Trump in 2016 and 2020.

And in the first debate, they even dressed the same — both in blue suits, white shirts and red ties.

Polls show most voters say the economy and inflation are their top issue and it was the first question in the debate. Vance said federal spending is the problem.

“Simultaneously they’ve borrowed and spent trillions of dollars that we just don’t have and that’s thrown fuel on the fire of the inflation problem and at the same time they’ve gone to war against America’s energy sector,” said Vance.

Ryan said he supported the billions of spending in the infrastructure law and the CHIPS Act, which were both bipartisan, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which wasn’t. But he stopped short of defending President Joe Biden when asked if he’s at fault for record-high inflation.

“I think everybody’s to blame — I mean, we’re coming out of a pandemic. It’s a problem,” said Ryan. “The question is, are we going to sit around another 10 years and point fingers? What I’ve been proposing is a significant tax cut for working people and small businesses.”

Ryan and Vance did agree on keeping China tariffs in place. They agreed that Taiwan should be defended and a strong response in Ukraine was needed, but neither was specific on what that would be.

But on social issues, they split sharply. Ryan said he wants a federal law guaranteeing the right to abortion, while Vance said he would be fine with a national standard such as a ban after 15 weeks.

Ryan supports a federal bill to codify marriage equality. Vance said while same-sex marriage is the law of the land, he’s opposed to the Respect for Marriage Act.

“The problem with this legislation is it’s going to unleash a wave of litigation against our churches, our religious organizations, our mosques, our synagogues, everything — that’s why I don’t think it’s a great idea,” Vance said.

While Vance said he wouldn’t apply a litmus test to potential U.S. Supreme Court justices, Ryan said he would: “I will have a litmus test on Roe v Wade, I’ll have a litmus test on the same-sex marriage, I’ll have a litmus test on birth control. We can't keep going down this road of taking away rights.”

When the questions were about politics, the candidates sparred. Ryan confirmed he doesn’t want Biden to run again in 2024, and mentioned his support for some of former president Trump’s policies.

But Ryan also criticized both Vance and Trump, referencing a crude comment Trump made about Vance at his rally in Youngstown last month.

“We need leaders who have courage to take on their own party. And I’ve proven that and he was called an ass-kisser by the former president,” said Ryan.

Vance came back with a seasonal reference to Halloween and said, “Tim Ryan has put on a costume where he pretends to be a reasonable moderate. But in fact — he said he stands up to his own party. The last two congresses, Tim, you voted for Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden 100%. You consistently toe the party line on every single issue.”

Vance was asked about being endorsed by and campaigning with Trump, who’s facing multiple criminal investigations. Vance said he hasn’t seen anything to suggest Trump should be imprisoned but that the justice system should work that out — but also said he’s concerned about that at the federal level.

“If you want to go after a former president, a likely — or possible future president or at least a future political candidate, you’ve got to tell the American people why. We have really corrupted leadership at the Department of Justice and that’s a problem,” said Vance.

Vance has repeated the false claim that the 2020 election featured widespread illegal voting. In this debate, Vance — who launched his campaign with the help of tech billionaire Peter Thiel — blamed Facebook and what he called Big Tech for threatening democracy.

But Ryan said those who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 and deny the 2020 election results are threats.

“This is the crowd that J.D.’s running around with — the election deniers, the extremists,” Ryan said. “That’s not Ohio.”

But both candidates did say clearly that they will accept the results of the 2022 election. Vance and Ryan are scheduled to debate one more time, next Monday in Youngstown.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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