How Democrat Tim Ryan is trying to sway Trump voters in Ohio

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BOWLING GREEN, Ohio—Tim Ryan clutched his Starbucks paper cup in his left hand as he tossed a pure spiral ball to his 8-year-old son, Brady, with his right. We were walking toward a waiting crowd of supporters in a parking lot near his alma mater’s stadium, where crowds were already gathering for the Wednesday night football game, and Ryan, a Democratic congressman running for Senate, became thoughtful, if not a little thoughtful.

“I think you get to the point in your career where you know what you believe in, you know what you stand for,” Ryan says as the sky begins to turn a shade of orange to match the colors of Bowling Green State University. “I’m just being myself. I have a great team around me that allows me to be myself, I throw football games on the TVs and things like that.

things, indeed. Ryan is running perhaps the most unconsulted campaign of the cycle. Having I listened of the so-called experts on his short-lived presidency campaign just to warranty before a single vote is cast, ryan is running on his own terms in what may be his final campaign. When something upsets him, he lets out a salty tongue. His campaign t-shirts are MAGA red and carry a new slogan: “Cut the BS. Shit over.” He appeared at a Fox News town hall Tuesday night in jeans and ditched the tie. “We kicked JD Vance’s ass on his own turf,” Ryan boasted the next day while stopping by an early voting location in Toledo.

And just as Ryan can sip his drink — first coffee, later Miller Lite — and throw the football at the same time, the former star quarterback similarly found a way to two-track his messages. He keeps President Joe Biden with him arm length while promoting parts of the White House agenda such as the Deflation Act. Ryan offers tax cuts and ditches anything approaching the Green New Deal. He wants more cops on the streets and fewer people in jail for marijuana. His campaign soundtrack is heavy on country, his standard speech faith and family. (The most common advice in the Bible, he notes, is some version of Do not be afraid.) He throws in a little Bobby Kennedy for good measure, but there are flashes of Ronald Reagan optimism in there, too.

That doesn’t mean Ryan’s position is universally accepted, even among those who already voted for him. “He’s more centrist than I am,” Karen Schubert told me in Youngstown on Tuesday. The 62-year-old director of the nonprofit literacy group Lit Youngstown says she would prefer a more progressive candidate, but is holding her nose and supporting Ryan because she doesn’t want to participate in the Vance regime. “I think he gets it and he’s the right fit for Ohio,” she says of Ryan, before airing some doubts: “Whatever happens, I’m proud to support them,” she says of the Democratic nominee.

This is not an unusual topic. “I’m further to his left. But at this point, he’s the best chance Ohio has,” said Kevin Ankney, a 38-year-old attorney with the Lucas County Board of Child Welfare, who caught Ryan’s stop in Toledo on Wednesday, where the candidate wearing an International Fire association Fighters half, arrived with an escort of electrical workers on their motorcycles. “If elected, he’s the Ohio version [Joe] Manchin.

And in that, Ryan could wield enormous power in the deeply divided Senate. The House is currently 50-50 with Senator Manchin of West Virginia having efficient veto power over the democratic one agenda. Add Ryan to the mix and it gets even tastier. While he has been a reliable voice for the Biden agenda, he is also unwavering. He provoked Nancy Pelosi’s bid for Speaker is open critical from the left wing of his party and sounds an awful lot like a Trumpian when he talks about trade and China—so much so that Asian-American groups objected to his first ad of the cycle, which sounded like a protectionist’s fever dream.

“He’s done a good job of separating himself from Trump without alienating people who think not everything Trump has done is bad,” said Nicholas Wainwright, a 29-year-old lawyer from Maumee who joined the tailgate Ryan’s at Bowling Green. “People live and die by Trump, but Tim says, Let’s look at this one by one.

Ryan makes no apologies for threading the needle as he drives around the rapidly darkening parking lots of Bowling Green State University. By this point, he’s ditched his fireman’s fleece for a BGSU hoodie and traded his coffee for beer. It’s a lot of talking and selfies, but Ryan – with his wife and son in dutiful supporting roles – is enjoying himself before slipping an orange lanyard around his neck to watch the game from the President’s Box. That’s quite an improvement for a kid from suburban Youngstown.

“I feel like things have worked out,” Ryan tells me, citing his opponent’s uneasy embrace of Trumpism on the Supreme Court end of the federal protection of abortion rights – and the respective outrage among female voters — and a poll that shows a tight race in Ohio, a state that was on Trump’s side just two years ago by 8 percentage points. “I only believe the polls I get,” Ryan joked Wednesday morning during a roundtable discussion with entrepreneurs in Dayton.

These polls should be noted, are few and rare. Strategists in both parties see a tight race unfolding next week between Ryan and Vance, a venture capitalist and Hillbilly Elegy author. Vance curled up himself in very awkward positions to ensure approval by Trump, a former enemy. Trump returns to Ohio ahead of election for Ohio GOP rally, including Vance. It might be what puts Vance over the top.

“People overthink these things. I think the president was a good president. Most people in Ohio agree,” Vance told me Thursday afternoon in Zanesville. “Even those who disagree, many of them don’t like the policies of the Biden administration. They would like to return to sanity. I think the only way to go wrong here is to over think these things.

Then Vance rings the bell of inevitability: “He will come. And we are happy to have him.”

So is Ryan, who spends much of his time following the trail connecting Vance to Trump. With one recent visit from the former president, there’s no way to dispute the connection.

“He’s running with the most extreme people in politics,” Ryan marveled Wednesday in Toledo.

It may turn out that these people are also the most effective.

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Write to Philip Eliot c [email protected].

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