As national Democrats strategize ahead of the midterms, the party would be wise to take note of the Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan. Ryan is emerging as a sleeper candidate to flip a solid red seat blue — and is arguably becoming a model for the Democratic Party going forward.
Indeed, amid a national political environment that is highly unfavorable toward Democrats, Ryan has a realistic chance of winning a reliably Republican Senate seat in a state that Donald Trump won by 8-points in both 2020 and 2016.
Recent polling from Suffolk University shows Ryan’s opponent, Trump-endorsed “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance, leading by just three points, while some polls conducted by Democratic strategy groups put Ryan slightly ahead.
Ryan’s relative strength in the race is largely due to his campaign’s strategic successes in three crucial areas: He is running toward the center on key issues, appealing to blue-collar voters and making a concerted effort to reach out to both Republicans and Democrats.
To be sure, this used to be the overarching campaign strategy for the Democratic Party — however, to the party’s detriment, the establishment and leadership have abandoned this approach in favor of promoting a far-left agenda that appeals to a small fraction of the electorate.
To his credit, Ryan is running to the political center and has moved to the right of President Biden and party leadership on key issues like crime and policing, China, trade and the economy.
One of Ryan’s campaign ads makes clear his unequivocal opposition to defunding the police, and another underscores his views on the need to fight back against China and invest in Ohio manufacturing. In addition, he routinely criticizes his own party for not doing enough to counter inflation.
To that end, Ryan is making a concerted effort to appeal to working class and blue-collar voters — a coalition that was once the core of the Democratic base, but slowly moved away from the party as it has become more progressive and ‘woke.’ Put another way, these are the voters that backed Barack Obama in 2008 but voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
Regaining the support of these voters — especially those concentrated in the rust belt — is essential to the Democrats’ chances of keeping the White House in 2024 and winning closely contested races in this year’s midterms.
Ryan has connected with these voters by staying on message about making the economy work for the middle class again — by bringing manufacturing jobs back to the state, taking an aggressive stance on inflation and proposing a working-class tax cut.
Perhaps most importantly, Ryan has attempted to do during his campaign what President Biden promised to do during his presidential run: take a conciliatory tone, stop finger-pointing and listen to the other side.
It is a near-extinct approach in American politics today — yet it is one that Americans so desperately want to see resurrected.
Ryan has embraced it. His campaign released an ad that ostensibly combines Biden’s ‘Soul of the Nation’ appeal with Trump’s ‘America First’ stance and argues that we “can’t afford to be Democrats and Republicans right now, we have to be Americans first.” Another ad supports and applauds a signature Trump policy — tariffs on China — where Ryan says that he “agreed with Trump on trade.”
Ryan’s frequent appearances and ads on Fox News are helping him connect with voters on the other side of the aisle. Currently, his campaign is running a spot on the conservative news network, which features prominent network hosts Tucker Carlson and Bret Baier heaping praise on him and his policies.
In addition, Ryan, as a lifelong Ohioan, has been running a relentless campaign ground game, making campaign stops at county fairs, small businesses and factories to talk about state-specific issues rather than national feuds or culture wars.
While Ryan’s approach has regrettably lost its prominence in Democratic politics over the last decade, this strategy is clearly his best path to winning the Ohio Senate seat — and is also Democrats’ best path to remaining politically viable in 2022, 2024, and beyond.
Of course, it will still be an uphill battle for Ryan, a 10-term congressman, to win in a state Donald Trump carried easily in the past two elections. That being said, even a narrow loss for Ryan will be a win for Democrats and will give them a roadmap for staying competitive in battleground races in future elections.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to former President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. He is the author of “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”