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J.D. Vance’s pivot to Trumpism pays off with Ohio Senate win

Vance’s win could well push Senate Republicans further to the right.

Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance arrives at a polling location in Cincinnati, on November 8. Vance defeated Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan.
Jeff Dean/AP

Republican J.D. Vance — a veteran, author, and venture capitalist — has won the Ohio Senate race, defeating Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan and keeping a key seat under Republican control.

Vance was widely expected to win the race in the state, which has increasingly leaned red in recent years, though Ryan was able to pick up momentum in recent weeks. Vance, who secured former President Donald Trump’s nomination in a chaotic primary by pivoting hard to the right, won by emphasizing economic issues, including bringing jobs back to the state and the effects of higher living costs.

He also waded into social issues, saying it would be a “good idea” to set a “minimal national standard” for abortion much like Sen. Lindsey Graham’s 15-week abortion ban does, while questioning the need for exceptions in abortion bans. Vance has backed Trump’s unfounded claims questioning the results of the 2020 election as well.

Despite the factors going for him in the state, Vance rattled national Republicans due to a series of unforced errors that he made. He was scrutinized for controversial statements he said both on the trail and in the past, including those suggesting that parents should stay in violent marriages for their children (he later said these were misconstrued). Those controversies were seized on by Ryan’s campaign, and meant the GOP had to pour in more money than they’d planned to counter those attacks.

Vance’s success will help maintain Republicans’ numbers in the Senate and could push the conference further to the right: He’s taking over a seat held by moderate Sen. Rob Portman, who is retiring this cycle and known for his focus on tax and trade policy.

How did Vance defeat Ryan?

Vance benefited from the GOP tilt of the state as well as other dynamics that were in Republicans’ favor this cycle. Typically, there’s backlash against the party in power, especially if the president is suffering from lower approval ratings, which was the case with Biden in Ohio. Concerns about inflation and the economy, too, seemingly helped contribute to Vance’s win. Vance first rose to fame for his memoir Hillbilly Elegy, a bestseller that sought to chronicle challenges that white working-class voters faced in Appalachia, and he worked to appeal to working-class voters across the state.

Beyond his focus on the higher costs Ohioans face, Vance also highlighted stringent border security policies and emphasized fighting the opioid epidemic, which has devastated parts of Ohio.

In the Senate, Vance is poised to be more conservative than his predecessor — something likely to affect the skew of the broader conference. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop explained, he’s pushed extreme ideas:

In September 2021, J.D. Vance, a GOP candidate for Senate in Ohio, appeared on a conservative podcast to discuss what is to be done with the United States, and his proposals were dramatic. He urged Donald Trump, should he win another term, to “seize the institutions of the left,” fire “every single midlevel bureaucrat” in the US government, “replace them with our people,” and defy the Supreme Court if it tries to stop him.

Previously, Vance — who has also worked for Republican megadonor Peter Thiel — has also embraced Trump’s “America First” rhetoric and broader leadership, despite past critiques of the former president. All that means he’s likely to be one of the furthest right members of the Senate GOP caucus.