COLUMBUS, Ohio — “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance defeated Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio on Tuesday in a blow to Democrats who viewed it as one of their best chances nationally to flip a seat.
Vance, 38, a venture capitalist and newcomer to politics, benefited from a last-minute push by Donald Trump. The former Republican president had endorsed Vance in a crowded, ugly Republican primary — despite Vance having once declared himself a “never-Trumper” — and then rallied for him twice, most recently on election eve.
Vance and Trump successfully linked Ryan to the national economic climate he blamed on President Joe Biden, while Ryan failed to make stick his narrative that Vance’s Ivy League education and time in the San Francisco tech industry meant he was out of touch with Ohio values.
Yet Vance commended Ryan’s campaign in his victory speech Tuesday and praised his dedication to the state. He pledged to stand up for the working Ohioans around whom Ryan framed his campaign, and to represent all Ohioans whether they voted for him or not.
Vance evoked the memory of his “Mamaw,” the sharp-tongued Appalachian grandmother who raised him and who was played by actor Glenn Close in the Ron Howard-directed movie about his difficult upbringing.
“She was a proud product of working people. She believed in the American Dream, she believed in the promise of this country,” he said. “And I guess my simple promise to you, to everybody here — you’re not going to always agree with every single vote I take, you’re not going to agree with every single amendment that I offer in the United States Senate — but I will never forget the woman who raised me, I will never forget where I came from and I will never forget the great people of Ohio.”
Vance’s victory was a devastating turn for Ryan, a 10-term congressman whose well-executed, well-funded campaign had buoyed his party by remaining within the margin of error of most polls since summer. That, despite Trump having twice won Ohio by 8 percentage points.
Ryan, 49, claimed to represent the “exhausted majority” of America and he said in conceding Tuesday that all the messages of his campaign remain true.
“What I said, I meant,” he said. “That this country, we have too much hate, we have too much anger, there’s way too much fear, there’s way too much division, and that we need more love, we need more compassion, we need more concern for each other. These are important things. We need forgiveness, we need grace, we need reconciliation, we do have to leave the age of stupidity behind us.”
Ryan had sought to cast himself in the mold of moderate incumbent Republican Rob Portman, who decided to retire due to the dysfunction he has experienced in Washington.
But Portman — and a long list of prominent conservatives, including Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump Jr. — got behind Vance to bring out a GOP coalition in the one-time bellwether state that’s looking increasingly invincible. Republicans again won every statewide elective office Tuesday, as well as three seats on the Ohio Supreme Court and retained control of both legislative chambers.
The congressman said he viewed the opportunity to concede defeat to Vance as a privilege, in an age of election denialism.
“Because the way this country operates, when you lose an election, you concede,” he said. “And you respect the will of the people. Right? We can’t have a system where if you win, it’s a legitimate election, and if you lose, someone stole it. That is not how we can move forward in the United States.”
Story by Julie Carr Smyth.