COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a race that was more competitive than many predicted, J.D. Vance emerged victorious in a no-love-lost battle that promised to tip the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
Vance hoped to ride to Washington on a wave of national discontent with Democrats in a state that Trump carried by 8 percentage points twice. Most polls showed Vance and Ryan roughly tied late in the campaign, even as incumbent Republican Gov. Mike DeWine leads his Democratic rival by double digits.
Ryan stressed his working-class roots and cast Vance as an outsider and “extremist” more interested in notching a title than serving Ohioans. The Democrat's blue-collar campaign sometimes sounded like a broadside against his own party.
“We have got to get this country back focused on the stress that working people are under every single day,” he said at a union hall in Niles, where he grew up, peppering his speech with profanities. “I don’t give a s—- who you voted for," he told a room of Democratic activists and union organizers.
Ryan sometimes sounded less like a candidate for Senate than a doomsday prophet warning national Democrats that they are on the precipice of disaster if they abandon the working-class voters who were once the heart of the party’s base.
“We will not be a national party unless we have the working class back on our side and that’s what this election is all about," Ryan said.
After sparking concern within the GOP for largely disappearing from the campaign trail over the summer, Vance crossed the state with conservative firebrands including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Jr. At events, he talked about being raised by his grandparents as his mother struggled with opioid addiction — a story he turned into the best-selling memoir-turned movie “Hillbilly Elegy.” And he revved up his crowds by lacing into Ryan, painting the congressman as a “complete fraud” who has tried to sell himself as a moderate but votes with President Joe Biden — a theme Republicans have hit hard in ads.
“My message is pretty clear: Tim Ryan has been in office for 20 years, ladies and gentlemen, he’s had his chance. Let’s send him back to Youngstown and force him to get a real job,” Vance said at a campaign stop in October.
Trump's decision to endorse Vance, despite years of Vance's criticism, helped the novice candidate seal the nomination in a competitive GOP primary. That turned him into one of Trump’s earliest success stories, helping the defeated president cement his status as a GOP kingmaker. But it also sparked fierce local backlash from supporters of rival candidates, who urged Trump to reconsider.
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