Democratic Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance squared off Monday evening in the final televised debate between the state’s Senate candidates, which saw personal attacks and clashes over key issues.
Ryan and Vance went head to head on abortion, immigration and the economy, echoing much of the national midterm conversation.
However, it was the final minutes of the debate that saw the most fireworks, with Ryan accusing Vance of holding anti-immigrant and racist beliefs and Vance hitting back by citing his own family and calling the claim “slander.”
The forum comes as the polls tighten in the state less than a month out from Election Day. A new USA Today-Suffolk University poll released on Monday showed Vance leading Ryan by just 2 points.
Here are five takeaways from the final Ohio Senate debate:
The gloves come off
Rep. Tim Ryan is running for Senate after dropping out of the 2020 presidential election.
Sparks flared throughout the hourlong debate, but fireworks erupted toward the end when Ryan accused Vance of espousing racist and xenophobic beliefs.
The exchange came in response to a question about the so-called great replacement theory, a racist conspiracy theory that asserts there is an intentional effort to replace white Americans with people of color.
“This is who he’s running around with, talking about replacement theory,” Ryan said. “There’s no big grand conspiracy. This country has been enriched by immigrants from all quarters of the world.”
Vance interrupted, telling Ryan the accusation was “shameful” given his family.
“My turn, pal,” Ryan responded, prompting Vance to say, “Oh, buddy.”
Ryan went on to note that a mass shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket earlier this year that targeted Black people was motivated by the great replacement theory.
“This is disgusting,” Vance responded. “Here’s exactly what happens when the media and people like Tim Ryan accuse me of engaging the great replacement theory.”
“What happens is my own children, my own biracial children, get attacked by scumbags online and in person because you are so desperate for political power that you’ll accuse me, the father of three beautiful biracial babies, of engaging in racism? We are sick of it. You can believe in the border without being a racist.”
“You’re so desperate not to have a real job that you’ll slander me and slander my family,” Vance added. “It’s disgraceful.”
Immigration emerges as a flashpoint
Immigration has been a highly contested political issue for decades, with Biden recently attacked for continuing some of Trump’s immigration initiatives.
Even before the exchange that closed out the debate, immigration and border security had emerged as a flashpoint, with both candidates lobbing personal attacks and touting their policy proposals.
In addition to a question specifically about immigration, both Ryan and Vance frequently pivoted answers to other questions — including those on abortion and the opioid crisis — toward the border.
Vance said illegal immigrants were coming into the country “through Joe Biden and Tim Ryan’s wide-open southern border.” He went on to cite his in-laws’ story of immigrating from South Asia legally.
“They followed the laws of this country,” Vance said. “We’re all part of the same family, but your introduction to this country should not be breaking its laws. You should come in through the proper channels.”
“You vote for the amnesty. You vote for the border wall funding,” Vance added, saying it is “going to destroy our country unless we get it under control.”
Earlier in the debate, Ryan hit Vance for accusing him of being too soft on immigration.
“I’m not going to take any guff from you, J.D., on this issue,” Ryan said. “This guy has invested in dozens of companies that use foreign workers. This is why J.D. Vance, with all due respect, is a fraud.”
Ryan also touted his own work on border security and broke with President Biden and others in his party on “relaxing some of the regulations down on the border — completely disagree with that.”
Vance, Ryan work to paint each other as beholden to their party
Former President Trump did a campaign rally in Ohio in support of Vance’s run for Senate.
Like in last week’s debate, Vance and Ryan continued to paint themselves as independent from their party’s establishment and each other as beholden their party’s leadership.
In response to Vance’s frequent attempts to tie him to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Ryan noted he ran against her for House Democratic leadership, saying that “you have to have the courage to take on your own leaders.”
“These leaders in D.C., they will eat you up like a chew toy,” Ryan told Vance. “You were calling Trump America’s Hitler, and then you kissed his ass, and then he endorsed you.”
Ryan then noted money Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and GOP mega-donor Peter Thiel have given to Vance’s campaign.
“What do you think they want for that?” Ryan asked.
Vance hit back, accusing Ryan of voting with Pelosi “100 percent of the time” and sucking up to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
“It’s ridiculous to accuse me of being anything because he has utterly failed to be independent,” Vance said. “The guy who is subservient to the national party is Tim Ryan, who’s been begging for these guys to come into this race and save him from the campaign he’s been running.”
Ryan hits Vance on Jan. 6
Some Republicans have sought to downplay the Jan. 6 attack and discredit the House committee investigating the riot.
Ryan took the opportunity to go on the offensive against Vance on his reaction to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and his association with election deniers.
“Of all the things to do in that circumstance, our guy thought it would be a good idea to post on social media, raise money for the insurrectionists, raise legal defense money for those people who stormed the Capitol,” Ryan said. “That’s outrageous.”
Vance, on the other hand, said the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the capitol is only interested in “a political hit job.”
“It goes back to four years ago, the obsession with the idea that Donald Trump had the election stolen by the Russians,” Vance said. “I think that’s just as much of a threat to the democracy as the violence on Jan. 6.”
Vance noted that he has condemned the violence on Jan. 6.
When asked whether former President Trump should comply with a subpoena by the committee that is set to be issued later this week, Ryan said Trump should respond to the subpoena, while Vance said it would be “a pretty enlightening piece of testimony.”
National issues of abortion, crime, inflation in spotlight
Like other candidates across the country, Ryan and Vance addressed some of the key issues of the cycle during the debate, including abortion, crime and inflation.
The debate kicked off with a question on Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, and both candidates sought to portray themselves as supporters of the police.
Abortion also proved to a central issue in the forum, with Ryan seeking to put Vance on defense over the issue.
When asked by debate moderators whether he would vote for Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) proposed national abortion ban, Vance said he believed it was “totally reasonable to say you cannot abort a baby, especially for elective reasons, after 15 weeks of gestation.”
“No civilized country allows it,” he said. “I don’t want the United States to be an exception.”