YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The already hostile Ohio Senate race got even nastier Monday when Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican JD Vance clashed over racist rhetoric and uttered personal insults.
During their final debate before the November 8 election, tensions ran at their peak towards the end of their hour on the podium, when one of the moderators asked the candidates about the “great replacement” theory.
The conspiracy, which has found a home on the far-right fringe, broadly states that a Jewish-led cabal of liberals is trying to seize power by replacing white voters with non-whites by any means necessary, including immigration and interracial marriage.
The suspect in the deadly shooting at a Buffalo supermarket in May, who is accused of targeting black people, is said to have embraced the theory. Vance has claimed during his campaign that Democrats are pushing liberal immigration policies to “replace” voters and win elections, leading to accusations that he also supports the theory.
“This great substitution theory was the motivator for the Buffalo shooting, where that shooter had all these great substitution theory writings that JD Vance agrees with,” Ryan said.
Vance, who has three children with his Indian-American wife, was visibly angry and fired back at Ryan.
“This is exactly what happens when the media and people like Tim Ryan accuse me of being involved with great replacement theories,” Vance said. “What is happening is that my own children – my biracial children – are being attacked online and in person by bastards because you are so desperate for political power that you will accuse me, the father of three beautiful biracial babies, of racism. We are sick of it. You can believe in a border without being racist.”
“I know you’ve been in office for 20 years, Tim, and I know it’s a nice gig, but you don’t want a real job so badly that you slander me and defame my family,” Vance added.
Ryan replied with an amused expression on his face, “I think I struck a chord with this man.”
The five-minute exchange followed what had been largely a civil, if spirited, debate at the Stambaugh Auditorium, near the campus of Youngstown State University and in the middle of the congressional district that Ryan has represented for nearly two decades. WFMJ, the local NBC affiliate, hosted the debate.
recent polls have indicated a tight Senate race, with leads from Ryan or Vance falling within the margins of error. The tense contest just three weeks after Election Day surprised many who saw former President Donald Trump’s two comfortable victories here as a sign that Ohio had become a trustworthy Republican state.
Ryan, who briefly served as president in 2020, has pushed himself to the center of his Senate campaign, reaching out to moderate Republicans and independents. Vance, a venture capitalist best known for writing the bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” has repeatedly attacked Ryan as a career politician whose loyalties lie with President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The attack line was a staple of Vance’s messages and the tens of millions of dollars in TV ads promoting his candidacy.
“That rising energy price that people see at the pump, that they see in their utility bills, that our farmers see when they pay more for diesel – that was the direct result of policies by Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi and supported 100% by Tim Ryan, Vance said in response to the debate’s opening question, about inflation.
Ryan, who once challenged Pelosi in a House leadership race, backed out by referring to Vance’s venture capital days in San Francisco, where Pelosi lives. Ryan and the Democrats have tried to portray Vance as an Ohio expat who became a coastal elite.
“JD, you keep talking about Nancy Pelosi,” Ryan said. “If you want to run against Nancy Pelosi, go back to San Francisco and run against Nancy Pelosi.”
But Vance returned to the Pelosi talking point by a Ryan ad in which the Democrat’s wife opens a bottle of wine and highlights their differences at home.
“It’s actually quite a funny TV commercial… where he says he only agrees with his own wife 70% of the time,” Vance said. “Yet he agrees and agrees with Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time. It must make things a little awkward in Ryan’s household.”
The debate then turned to Vance’s partisan loyalty when one of the moderators, longtime Youngstown political journalist Bertram de Souza, referred to how Ryan had branded Vance as Trump’s “a–kisser” during the previous debate. The line is a paraphrase of Trump’s comment about Vance at a recent meeting.
Trump ‘told a joke at a rally based on a fake New York Times’ storyand Tim Ryan has decided to run his entire campaign on it,” Vance said before trying to get another Pelosi punch.
De Souza insisted, “You saw that as a joke?”
Vance replied that he knows Trump “very well” and that he “took no offense”.
“Everyone there took it as a joke,” Vance said, before returning to Pelosi.
The back and forth went on for almost 10 minutes. Three of the most uttered words at the time: Nancy, Pelosi, and a–.
“I don’t have to hate Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden,” Ryan said. “We need to change the political discourse in this country from hatred and anger and division to love and compassion and forgiveness, and some mercy. And all I’m saying is don’t hate her.”