Many Democrats this year hoped to break the tie in the U.S. Senate by winning a number of vulnerable GOP-held seats in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin that had voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. While the latter two voted for Joe Biden by narrow margins in 2020, the Buckeye State went for Trump by 8 percentage points.
Still, Representative Tim Ryan from the 13th Congressional District in northeastern Ohio’s Mahoning Valley figured it was his turn. One reason may have been the state GOP’s redistricting, which resulted in the dismembering of his district such that it lost Democratic voters from Akron and surrounding Summit County. He ran in the primary as the centrist pro-union candidate against progressive Morgan Harper, easily winning with more than 69 percent of the vote.
Ryan’s general election opponent was venture capitalist and author J. D. Vance, with whom he had two bitter debates that became increasingly personal. Headed into Election Day (which is still one day in Ohio), Vance was given an almost 90 percent chance of winning by PredictIt. Ryan continually appealed to voters by emphasizing how different he is from the Democratic leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden and in attempting to appeal to independent and Republican voters in the now solidly red state. But that wasn’t enough, so he broke out the kitchen sink and went to an outdoor firing range with a couple of friends for his last ad.
For good measure, on November 7, Ryan accused Vance of profiting from “Russian propaganda.” How? Vance’s Narya Capital company has holdings in the video platform Rumble, which has allowed the Russia Today TV network to maintain an account.
In the firing range ad, Ryan makes the curious choice of using a handgun. In his statements about gun ownership, Ryan usually mentioned family traditions of hunting in the country. This is a common tactic on the Left when talking about the Second Amendment—holding that they want to keep guns legal for the “good” owners (hunters and farmers with their shotguns and hunting rifles) while removing “weapons of war” from the streets. So the ad encapsulated several logical gaps in the Democrat’s position:
- A common refrain from Democrats like Joe Biden is that AR-15s are unnecessary because deer do not wear Kevlar vests . . . but it’s also hard to drop one from beyond 25 yards using a standard-barrel handgun chambered in 9mm without a scope. Curiously, Ryan left out the photos he took of himself firing a hunting shotgun from the ad.
- Handguns like the one in Ryan’s ad made up more than 60 percent of firearm homicides in 2019, according to the FBI crime statistics, and 45 percent of all homicides. Ryan supported an assault weapons ban, even though only 2.6 percent of homicides during the same period involved rifles of any kind.
- The Second Amendment contains no language relating to hunting, and why would it? In 1790, when the Constitution had just gone into effect, only about 5 percent of American citizens lived in urban areas, and the remainder were rural. Hunters’ rights weren’t even a topic of debate.
- Does anyone sincerely believe that the importance of hunters’ rights was seen as so sacred that the framers of the Constitution put it second in the Bill of Rights, after freedom of speech and religion in the First Amendment?
Gun owners have a name for personalities like Ryan: “Fudd“—as in Elmer Fudd, a person who believes that any use other than hunting is an abuse of firearms that the Second Amendment should not protect. One of his former colleagues, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), now a staffer in the Biden White House, has accused the NRA of being responsible for inner-city gun violence while always highlighting his ownership of hunting rifles.
The transparent reason for Ryan’s decision to air the gun commercial is that he knows Ohio’s electorate has shifted rightward since 2012 when Barack Obama comfortably defeated Mitt Romney. During most of the campaign, rather than standing on the merits of his own voting record, Ryan griped about how there are no “nice” Republicans left, like retiring Senator Rob Portman (who endorsed Vance after the primary). Ryan’s record on the Second Amendment, needless to say, left much to be desired for his state’s electorate:
- Again, he supported an assault weapons ban along with mandatory gun buybacks.
- He once supported federal reciprocity for states that allow the concealed carry of handguns. He also supported legislation shielding gun manufacturers from liability to lawsuits for the misuse of a weapon, but in 2017 voted against the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.
- Ryan voted against the SHARE Act of 2015, which would have expanded the right of sportsmen to hunt and fish on federal lands. Even though 12 Democrats voted in favor of the legislation, Ryan did not join them. His gesticulations in support of hunters are simply empty rhetoric.
How Do You Do, Fellow Deplorables?
Democratic media took notice of Ryan’s close polling before the election, and several proclaimed him to be “the future” of the party’s campaigns for the Senate. Others thought it was a shrewd strategy for him to trash the national Democratic Party on issues such as trade and worker protections. He also went in heavy on pandering to Ohio cultural themes. The gun range video was not the only example, as he also brought out former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar for rallies near the end. But Ryan’s image control efforts could not remedy a 20-year record of moving from an A- NRA rating to renouncing the group and embracing legislation that would penalize gun manufacturers for crimes committed with their merchandise.
With all of the desperate messaging, was Ryan’s run as a crossover “anti-party” Democrat actually a successful template? Those that say yes could point to his smaller margin of defeat (6.5 percentage points) compared to the Democratic gubernatorial ticket of Nan Whaley and Chery Stephens this year (15.6 percentage points). Ryan also won five more counties and almost 400,000 more votes than they did. But this could also be attributed to Vance’s status as an outsider competing against a relatively well-known congressman.
Vance and Ryan combined drew just over 4 million votes, which is high but almost 400,000 less than the number at play in 2018 when Democrat Sherrod Brown was reelected to Ohio’s other Senate seat.
The Democrats will doubtless debate the value of putting forward a campaign like Ryan’s, where the candidate basically has to win the primary as a standard Democrat and then run against the party in the general election. It also is not certain Democrats can replicate the playbook Ryan—who at least at one point could lay claim to being a pro-gun, pro-life, blue-collar Democrat—deployed.
In any case, Sherrod Brown, who just announced he would seek reelection to a fourth term, will not be able to pivot against his party in the same way Ryan did. With a much longer track record as a standard pro-choice, anti-gun liberal, Brown would have to renounce much of his career in order to replicate the Ryan playbook.
So for better or worse, Ohio will get a true contrast of viewpoints in 2024 and not the charade that Tim Ryan mounted this year.