Cleveland – As you can read on the Current Affairs Times. On paper, Tim Ryan would appear to be a midwestern Democratic candidate formed in a build-a-bear workshop. On paper, he has a 10-term congressional history of defending his home state. On paper, he understands– better than most–the battles that working-class families face. On paper, he recognizes the advantage of political triangulation and avoiding the snares of a culture war quagmire. A paper resume like this once worked for Ohio’s pro-labor shepherds like Sherod Brown and Marcy Kaptur. But the age of paper is through.
Meanwhile, Ryan’s opposition, JD Vance, is without political record, exploits his prior identity as a card-holding member of Ohio’s impoverished working class, and leads a campaign hellbent on smearing the culture-war trenches with as much blood he has left in his bucket. So it wouldn’t be lunacy to think Tim Ryan should stand at least a ghost of a chance at Ohio’s vacant senate seat.
However, the bulk of political analysts, vegas bookies, and major DNC cash farms just don’t see him as the correct donkey to push chips at this midterm cycle. Nobody seems to be taking Tim Ryan’s resume or his schleppy midwestern impression of Bobby Kennedy very seriously.
And without any DNC Super PAC investment, Tim Ryan’s senate hopes aren’t getting any brighter. Glancing at the numbers, Ryan won Ohio’s Democratic primary with close to 70% of the vote (355,000). On the other hand, Vance won the Republican primary with 32% (340,000). Over twice as many republicans cast their ballot in the primary as democrats.
Such party turnout is typical in a midterm election with a Democrat occupying the Whitehouse. But still, Ryan’s chances seem to be double wrought by the fact that he’s running on a shaky message: one part republican-nativist and one part old-school democrat.
But before placing all the blame flatly on Ryan’s broad Irish shoulders, it’s essential to understand the DNC’s failure to embrace Ohio as a priority.
Ohio’s Ruddy Makeover
Over the past decade, Ohio has drifted from the democratic party (and vice versa). In many ways being the suburbanized sibling of West Virginia, Ohio battles with a long history of drug abuse, industrial skidmarks, and failure to navigate its way in an increasingly digitized world.
President Obama took Ohio in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. The 2008 election results, while by thin margin, saw Obama win over many heavily industrialized counties along the northern and eastern borders of the state. And many inland and Appalachian counties along the southern border went republican by only a few percentage points.
In 2012, this advantage began to chip away. The red counties grew redder, and many of the industrial counties won in 2008 turned a paler shade of blue. Where Obama won with a 4% margin in 2008, he dropped to a 3% margin four years later.
Trump’s 2016 campaign entirely readjusted Ohio’s color scheme. Compared to the 2012 election, in 2016, Trump flipped 8 counties from blue to red, winning 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties by an 8% margin. And the 2020 results were no different. Trump won by another 8% and budged one more county–Lorain (the county with one of the largest Puerto Rican settlements west of NYC)–into the red.
Among many things, Trump rewired the American political candidacy. Through the help of guerilla media strategist Brad Parsacle, in 2016, Trump proved the brutal effectiveness of social media messaging. He dumped record amounts of investment into Facebook ad buys, audience building, geo targetting, and digital research. And additionally, Trump was handed a fortune worth of earned media appearances and social media buzz.
While Kennedy was the first to show a successful candidate had to perform on TV, Trump was the first to show that a successful candidate was required to perform on social media.
Digital persona is now a crucial part of an American candidacy and something that Tim Ryan’s message and personal presentation don’t fit flush with. He began by exercising recycled messages already numb to the ears of those who voted for the pro-manufacturing, infrastructure, and future-forward union platforms of 2008 and 2012. Many of these voters moved onto the bottomlessly enraging messages of the Trump campaigns.
And this is where Ryan has tweaked his message to make a mild appeal to emotion. He has largely bucked off progressive orthodoxy, straddled the rut, and attempted to acknowledge workers’ fear of outside forces like China while feeding protein through a foundational message of hope-filled economic resurgence. And thus far, Ryan’s effort has fallen flat on Republicans and further alienated Democratic donors and progressives.
A Hand in Both Fires
As the midterms rage on, Ryan attempts to become a crossbreed, some mythical creature between donkey and elephant. But in trying to be the candidate that square’s the emotional debt between the left and right, he’s getting tangled in the genetic crossover. Ultimately, his message will likely set up camp closer to the right as he eyes the 200,000+ ballots that went to the Trump-agnostic and failed republican candidate, Matt Dolan.
While the forecast for Ryan’s senate bid isn’t sunny, it wouldn’t be fair to cite failure as a foregone conclusion. Outside of being a vessel of Trumpism, JD Vance offers little hope or attentiveness to the people of Ohio. However, where hope was once an emotional product that sold quite well with the disenchanted working class, in states like Ohio, it tends to languish on shelves at half price.
Thumbnail Credits: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File
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