What Norfolk Southern’s accident reports say about the company and industry

Last October in Sandusky, a Norfolk Southern train derailed 21 cars and spilled 10,000 gallons of paraffin wax.

In 2020, a Norfolk Southern conductor tried to pull out of a Rossville, Tennessee train yard while one car was still connected to an unloading tower. The accident released about 500 gallons of maelic anhydride — an irritant for the eyes and respiratory tract that’s useful in making resins.

And in 2018, Norfolk Southern had an accident in Loudonville, Ohio. Sixteen cars came off the tracks. One car spilled more than 30,000 gallons of liquified petroleum gas. The other, according to the accident report, “released 200 pounds of environmentally hazardous substances, solid.”

That last accident happened in February — five years to the day, in fact, before the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine.

Norfolk’s safety reputation

Derailments litter the past five years of Norfolk Southern’s accident reports. To be fair, most of those incidents are relatively benign: Nothing spills, nobody gets hurt.

Still the frequency of these incidents is hard to miss. Axios noted that in a recent earnings call executives acknowledged accidents are climbing. The Dispatch recently reported that Norfolk Southern is near the top of major rail companies when it comes to accidents per million miles.

According to a Federal Railroad Administration 10-year safety summary, Norfolk Southern saw 163.6 derailments and 2.9 hazardous material releases per year on average.

Speaking on background, one former conductor said Norfolk Southern doesn’t have great reputation when it comes to safety. A consultant with significant experience in the industry said among the big four railroads, Norfolk Southern isn’t as bad as Union Pacific, but it’s still pushing the bounds of safe operation.

On the other hand, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen vice president Vince Verna said the company isn’t an outlier among those major, or Class 1, railroads.

“NS doesn’t really stand out as better or worse than the other Class 1 railroads in America,” he explained. “I’m sure if you looked at any one metric, they may have a better or worse metric depending on what you might be looking at, but all the Class 1 railroads have their issues and their successes.”

Robert Lauby, the former chief safety officer with the Federal Railroad Administration argued Norfolk’s track record is actually pretty good.

“Norfolk Southern has historically been one of the safer railroads,” Lauby said. “They are a conservative railroad, I would say, in that they like to do things the way they’ve always done it, but they try to do it as good as possible.”

“Even safe companies have tragic accidents like this,” he added.

Pointing fingers over regulations

The disaster in East Palestine has put significant attention on the regulatory framework that governs rail safety. The often esoteric provisions have become political ammunition for those criticizing the Biden administration’s response or the Trump administration’s rollbacks.

There’s no doubt former President Donald Trump abandoned or rescinded rules related to rail safety. He regularly bragged about cutting red tape on Twitter. But experts caution against relying on a counterfactual argument.

Gov. Mike DeWine said it was “absurd” the train didn’t have a high hazard designation. That would’ve made no difference, the consultant explained. The Trump administration scrapped rules mandating at least two crew members per train. There were three crew members on the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine.

When it comes to electronic braking, however, rail experts offer a more nuanced response.

As NTSB chairwoman Jennifer Homendy noted in a Twitter thread, the electronic braking rules that Trump rolled back wouldn’t have applied to the train in East Palestine. Still, had such a system been in place, it could’ve made a difference.

Train braking

Lauby compared trains to “a giant slinky”. With traditional pneumatic braking systems, cars at the front of the line stop before cars at the back. Electronically controlled pneumatic, or ECP brakes, apply down the line at the same time. Lauby doubts that ECP brakes would have prevented the East Palestine derailment, but he explained they do tend to reduce the size of accidents.

“They minimize the number of cars involved in the derailment and the speed at which they pile up,” he said. “It takes a lot of the energy out of a derailment when it does occur.”

More important, Lauby and the consultant explain, is what the electronic system can offer beyond braking. They describe it as a kind of backbone that can transmit information up and down the train in real time.

“So, if I’m going down the railroad as a locomotive engineer and I see an alert on the ECP display — car 23, hot bearing, I’m just going to bring my train to a stop,” the consultant explained.

Given the preliminary NTSB report citing an overheated bearing as the apparent cause of derailment, the consultant believes that kind of system could have prevented the accident in East Palestine.

“If the train in East Palestine had been equipped with ECP brakes and that suite of sensors on that car, there would not have been an likelihood of derailment,” the consultant said. “It’s not a matter of blaming anybody. It’s a matter of what potential do we have here moving forward to operate a safer and more efficient railroad.”

What should happen?

The NTSB’s initial findings describe how a bearing in the 23rd car went from 38°F to 103°F to 253°F above ambient temperature at three hot bearing detectors. The first two detectors were 10 miles apart; 20 miles separated the second from the third.

Citing a 2019 study, the consultant explained, even at 20 miles apart, that’s more frequent than average. But to Verna, from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, that patchwork is a problem. He argued regulators should establish standards for their use.

All three experts expressed concerns about the “financialization” of the rail system. With major operators prioritizing quarterly growth, they argued, investments in safety get short shrift.

“If I’m a CEO in the railroad industry and I can’t show more profits every year for five years,” Lauby said, “I’m not going to be the CEO anymore.”

Investments in safety, he said, require thinking further into the future than a given CEO will likely be around.

“And this is where the federal government comes in,” Lauby said. “Because where a railroad can’t do something because of their stockholders the federal government can say this is the new requirement and you have to put this in place, and it evens the field for everybody.”

Establishing an ECP braking system would likely require congressional action Lauby and the consultant noted. But Lauby is doubtful it will make the cut if and when Congress acts.

Verna doesn’t oppose upgrading to ECP brakes. But he argued that avoids the bigger problem of railroads attempting to maximize profits by running ever longer trains.

“It’s not just that the brake system needs to be updated, it’s the operating practices that are being engaged with this current brake system really aren’t what it was designed to do.”

The consultant agreed that railroads should pare back their train lengths. They also argued railroads need to sequence cars to better distribute their weight. Lauby added that railroads should consider a safety management system similar to the Federal Aviation Administration’s.

“The question we ask after an accident,” Verna said, “is did we do everything we could to prevent this from happening?”

“We want to be able to answer yes,” he went on. “Right now, at this point, we think there’s more that we can be doing.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Authorities ramp up war of words in East Palestine as recovery continues

Officials in both Ohio and Washington D.C. are putting pressure on Norfolk Southern to do right by the residents of East Palestine. In a handful of letters, they criticize the company’s response thus far and insist that it do more.

Attorney General Dave Yost

A letter from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost notifies Norfolk CEO Alan Shaw that his office is “considering litigation.” If he receives a referral from any state agency, Yost said, his office would “pursue all remedies available.”

He warns Shaw that, “Norfolk Southern is under a legal obligation to preserve all information potentially relevant to the impending litigation,” and insists that no information is “destroyed, altered, deleted or lost.”

In addition to preserving records related to Norfolk Southern itself, Yost instructs the company to maintain information regarding any contractors working on clean up.

Yost directs Shaw’s legal team to speak to one of his deputies if the company is interested in “discussions to amicably resolve this matter.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s letter took a noticeably broader perspective. While he said the derailment “upended” the lives of East Palestine residents, Buttigieg suggested the company’s culpability stretches even further.

“They fear for their future, as do thousands of American communities and neighborhoods that sit along railway lines,” Buttigieg said.

He insisted that Norfolk Southern provide “unequivocal support” for the East Palestine community and criticized its response so far.

“It is clear that area residents are not satisfied with the information, presence, and support they are getting from Norfolk Southern in the aftermath and recovery,” he wrote. “It is imperative that your company be unambiguous and forthright in its commitment to take care of the residents — now and in the future.”

Buttigieg argued the derailment in East Palestine should be Norfolk’s cue to take on a different posture, “that focuses on supporting, not thwarting, efforts to raise the standard of U.S. rail safety regulation.”

Like U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, he criticized the company for spending far more on stock buybacks than it has invested in its operations. Buttigieg also promised that new safety regulations are coming, and he will urge Congress to raise the cap on fines.

“To ensure their deterrent effect is commensurate with the economic proportions of today’s large railroad companies,” Buttigieg explained.

The latest in East Palestine

The Ohio Department of Health’s clinic opens its doors later today at the First Church of Christ in East Palestine. The department’s announcement says they’ll have registered nurses and mental health specialists on hand. In addition, toxicologists will be available in person or over the phone.

“Last week, I was in East Palestine and listened as many area residents expressed their concerns and fears,” state medical director Bruce Vanderhoff said in the release. “I heard you, the state heard you, and now the Ohio Department of Health and many of our partner agencies are providing this clinic, where people can come and discuss these vital issues with medical providers.”

Some residents have complained about ailments like burning eyes, sore throats, headaches or rashes. Many believe chemicals from the spill are to blame. The clinic will give residents a chance to get checked out and ask questions — particularly for those without a primary care doctor. The clinic will refer to people to other providers if necessary.

Teams from the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are pitching in to help as well.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

How J.D. Vance spent his first month in the U.S. Senate

Since taking office a month ago, U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance has underscored his skepticism for offering military support to Ukraine. It’s an issue that set him apart from politicians in Ohio and around the country but didn’t keep him from securing the GOP nomination or the general election.

Just days before Russia’s invasion, Vance declared, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another,” on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast.

After bullets began flying, he softened his tone somewhat, but never really abandoned the issue. At a New Albany campaign stop last March he expressed sympathy but insisted “we have to have to focus on what’s going on closest to home.” On debate stages, he criticized Congress withholding $4 billion for a border wall under Trump, but then readily spending $14 billion on Ukraine.

“That suggests some pretty messed up priorities,” he said at the time.

Now in the Senate, Vance is continuing the charge and drawing like-minded lawmakers to the effort.

Oversight, opposition and obstruction

As Senator, Vance’s first step on Ukraine policy was sending a letter to the Office of Management and Budget. He and 35 other lawmakers pressed the agency to publicly provide “a full cross-cutting report,” on Ukraine expenditures. U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, was the only other Ohio lawmaker to sign the letter. Federal law requires the agency to provide a report, but Vance insisted on more detail.

“They should expand the report to tell us the amount of money we’ve sent to Ukraine, including comprehensive information showing how those funds were used,” Vance said in a statement.

“I do not intend to sit back and allow the Biden Administration to keep this information under wraps,” he added. “I expect to receive this report by the (Feb. 7) deadline in this letter.”

After the administration agreed to send M1 Abrams tanks made in Lima, Ohio to Ukraine, Vance told a Cleveland station it was a “ultimately not in our national security interest.”

Proud to endorse @realDonaldTrump for President in 2024.
While others want to foolishly march us into WW3 over Russia and Ukraine, Trump is the only candidate running with the courage to stand up to the corrupt bipartisan foreign policy establishment.https://t.co/RKHzg4B2AP
— J.D. Vance (@JDVance1) February 2, 2023

Earlier this week, again on Bannon’s War Room podcast, Vance announced his endorsement of Donald Trump for president. In line with a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Vance praised Trump’s foreign policy. He called it “the most cautious and the most careful,” in a generation.

“Since I’ve been an adult you had two separate two-term administrations, Bush and then Obama, start four separate wars, none of which were successful,” Vance argued.

At Bannon’s prompting, Vance said it’s time for Congress to have a more direct hand in deciding what support Ukraine receives.

“The escalation here is incredible,” Bannon said, “Is it time for the Senate, or some a couple of people stand up and say force Biden to come with a war powers resolution and lay out the plan? Lay out the objectives, lay out the strategy, what we’re prepared to do, and then let’s vote?”

“Yeah, I think it’s exactly time to do that,” Vance agreed. “And that’s something I plan to work on over the next few months.”

As for where Ohioans stand, Vance told Bannon he hears mixed views but “most people probably agree” with his perspective.

“I think even people who are sympathetic with the plight of the Ukrainians, like I am, they don’t think that this is America’s main concern,” Vance said.

Ukrainian American response

It’s all a bit disappointing to Marta Kelleher. The president of United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio says Vance’s push for a transparent accounting is a reasonable request.

“All Americans, whether you are of Ukrainian American descent, or any other, want to see that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and want to have an accounting of it,” she said.

But she departs from the senator when it comes to the war powers resolution. She explained that resolution, passed in 1973, provides a check on presidential power to use military force without Congressional approval. Since the U.S. is only sending materiel, she argued, it’s a misplaced effort.

“There are no troops on the ground. There was never a request for troops on the ground. The United States is not going to commit troops to the ground,” Kelleher said. “So it doesn’t seem an appropriate request or even next step.”

As for Vance’s broader skepticism toward offering support, Kelleher insisted she doesn’t sympathize with his position. But she didn’t bash him for it, either — she understood how he got there.

Picking up on Vance’s op-ed in the Journal, she called his framing of the argument, relying on foreign policy during his adult life, “somewhat myopic, and understandingly so.” Vance’s perspective, she argued, “needs to be broadened a bit.” Understanding Putin’s actions today is impossible without understanding the control and influence the Soviet Union exerted over eastern Europe in previous decades, she said.

Still, Kelleher didn’t dismiss Vance. Instead, she brought up how Vance has spoken previously about wanting to meet with the community.

“You learn when you listen, and so our door’s open,” she said. “We welcome the Senator to come and sit down and broaden that perspective, and broaden the understanding beyond just the occurrences within his lifetime.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump sets Nov. 15 for 'very big announcement'

VANDALIA — More than a thousand people flooded the Dayton Airport tarmac on Election Eve to see Donald Trump speak. In between the flight hangars organizers set up bleachers and jumbotrons that would later show power point presentations. Flags or bunting covered every flat surface that wasn’t moving.

At about 8:30 p.m., Trump’s plane landed and taxied up behind the podium — “TRUMP” in big gold letters serving as a backdrop for his speech. After months of flirting with a 2024 presidential bid, he teased a “very big announcement” Nov. 15 at Mar a Lago.

The question of whether Trump would make any campaign announcement before or after the 2022 Election has been debated for months amid speculation over its potential impact.

“We want nothing to detract from the importance of tomorrow, you understand,” Trump said.

Trump’s campaign trail visit to Ohio comes as he faces a U.S. Department of Justice criminal probe over classified records recovered by the FBI at his Florida home Mar-a-Lago in August. During the court-approved search, the FBI seized more than 11,000 documents including about 100 marked as classified.

The federal investigation revolves around whether Trump illegally removed documents from the White House when he left office and whether he tried to obstruct the probe. The documents themselves have been reported to include material on foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities, Iran’s missile program, and U.S. intelligence work aimed at China.

The opening act

Before Trump took the stage, Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and a big chunk of the Ohio congressional ticket warmed up the crowd. U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance spoke emphasizing inflation, border policy, and drugs — his usual themes on the campaign trail.

U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan, Mike Turner, Warren Davidson, Mike Carey took turns, and congressional nominees Max Miller and J.R. Majewski spoke, too.

A handful of media outlets hinted at Trump perhaps choosing the evening as the venue to announce another presidential bid in 2024. He didn’t.

In such a broad open space, the crowd’s response seemed remarkably tepid. But the lines that exercised them most had to do with revenge and aggression. Greene’s line about Trump “ending dynasties” got the crowd going as she listed off Liz Cheney, the Clintons, and in 2024, the “Obama-Biden dynasty.”

Majewski taunted Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Tim Ryan over his call to “confront and kill the MAGA movement.”

“Well, Timmy,” he said, “If you’re watching, and I know you are, there’s a whole lot of MAGA going on right now in Dayton, Ohio.”

“You should come on down here,” he added. “I double dog dare you.”


Trump’s speech was true to form — long on perceived slights and longer on his administration’s accomplishments. Of his first impeachment, he said “the conclusion was no collusion,” and then veered hard into cruelty.

“Do you think Biden can say that?” he teased. The president has long struggled with a stutter.

“I give him a 2% chance of getting that one,” Trump added. Later they played a supercut of Biden stumbling over his words on the jumbotron.

When he wasn’t talking about himself, Trump bragged about recent polling that’s positive for Vance.

“What the hell am I doing here?” he barked jokingly.

And Trump took aim directly at Vance’s opponent, Ryan, who has run ads touting the times he has sided crossed the aisle to side with Trump.

“Now he’s going to say Trump is great, I agree with all this, I love Trump, I think he’s wonderful,” Trump said.

“I don’t know the gentleman,” Trump went on, “But I can tell you this — he’s not for us. He’s a radical left lunatic who’s now trying to jump on the bandwagon.”

The most notable moment, however, was likely Trump calling Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on stage to speak. Some in the crowd began to boo at the first mention of the governor, and as he touted his administration’s record cutting taxes and funding police, those jeers grew. DeWine finished his remarks quickly.

“Well that was a very nice welcome,” Trump joked sarcastically. “But he’s up by 25.”

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Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio Bar condemns ad attacking Democratic state Supreme Court nominees

The Ohio Bar Association is urging the Republican State Leadership Committee to take down a campaign ad criticizing the three Democratic state supreme court nominees. In a letter signed by campaign advertising committee chair Paul Hervey, they argued the ad “serves to erode public trust and confidence in the judiciary.”

How we got here: DuBose

The Left defunded the police and let criminals out of jail.
Just reminding you.
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) October 24, 2022

It’s another example of Republican office seekers invoking crime as a campaign issue. While the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights has animated Democrats around the country, in Ohio, a very different case is energizing Republicans.

In DuBose, the Ohio Supreme Court reduced the defendant’s bail after determining the judge “unlawfully set the bail amount so high so as to ensure that DuBose could not get out.”

More generally, the court determined judges may not consider threats to public safety when setting the financial conditions of bail. Weighing public safety is perfectly fine, they ruled, for non-monetary conditions like monitoring or stay away orders. Their reasoning is rooted in Eighth Amendment protections against excessive bail.

The justices were quick to note state law already carries provisions that eliminate bail altogether for dangerous defendants — prosecutors just have to argue for it.

Republican lawmakers responded by fast-tracking an amendment — Issue 1 — for this November’s ballot. And the DuBose ruling became fodder for the RSLC’s attack ad.

“Outrageous bail rulings risk our safety,” the narrator argues, “yet Jennifer Brunner and Democrat justices on the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of lowering an alleged murderer’s bail.”

The ruling in DuBose was bipartisan, though. Outgoing Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor sided with the Democratic justices on the bench.

Law and order on the campaign trail

As Election Day nears, Republican candidates have increasingly leaned into a law-and-order message that blends rising crime, cash bail, and a rejection of “defund the police” rhetoric.

At a campaign stop in Delaware last week, for instance, GOP U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance argued, “Democrats have encouraged soft on crime policies that make it possible for violent criminals to get back on the streets. That’s why we see so many overdose deaths. That’s why we see a rise in violent crime.”

A week earlier in Columbus he argued, “In the last couple of years we’ve seen a really, really significant rise in violent crime all across the state of Ohio. I think it’s very connected to policies like letting far too many violent criminals out of prison, and importantly, cops who feel like they can’t do their job and keep us safe.”

In one campaign ad for Gov. Mike DeWine the narrator intones, “while radicals push to defund our police, Mike DeWine increased funding for law enforcement to keep us safe.” That $250 million came from the American Rescue Plan — a federal measure backed by President Biden which DeWine opposed vociferously.

The RSLC ad fits right in with the rhetorical trend. In addition to the bail reduction in DuBose, it invokes a murder case and drugs seized by police.

A closer look at crime

In reality, violent crime is up — but likely not as much as it’s perceived to be. Columbus in particular has seen a recent spike in homicides, hitting a record in 2020 only to break it in 2021. So far this year, the city has seen 118 homicides, and while that many deaths is a tragedy, it’s about fifty fewer than were reported by this time last year.

The FBI’s latest crime statistics for Ohio show modest year over year increases in the number of homicides as well as violent crime overall. At the same time, the number of agencies in Ohio actually reporting data increased by 39 between those years, too.

Nationwide, estimates suggest violent crime declined slightly from 2020 to 2021, while homicides in particular rose by 4.3%. The FBI press release notes, however, that the shift is “not statistically significant,” and that “The nonsignificant nature of the observed trends is why, despite these described changes, the overall message is that crime remained consistent.”

A closer look at the ad

In addition to criticizing Brunner’s decision on DuBose, the RSLC ad zeroes in on two additional cases to cast doubt on state appeals court judges Marilyn Zayas and Terri Jamison. For Zayas, the ad contends “she voted to dismiss the murder conviction of a man found guilty of killing in cold blood.”

Instead, Zayas was part of a majority that threw out an aggravated murder conviction and ordered a new trial for murder or felony murder. The judges determined prosecutors had failed to demonstrate the defendant acted with “prior calculation and design” as required by law.

The ad said Judge Jamison “would have thrown out evidence of drugs seized legally by police.” In that case Jamison was in the minority. Her dissenting opinion argued Columbus Police unlawfully searched a car they were impounding. Department policy directs them to inventory “the contents of all reasonably accessible areas and containers in the vehicle.” Instead, the officers searched behind an access panel in the car’s center console without first getting a warrant. One of the officers stated the panel simply fell off when he touched it. Jamison expressed skepticism noting that somehow the body cameras of both officers present failed to capture the incident.

“Ads like these perpetuate what we believe to be widespread misperceptions about the role of judges in our system of government,” Hervey said in the Bar’ Association’s letter to the RSLC

“While we are all free to disagree with a law or find fault in a judge’s legal reasoning,” he added, “it is misleading and a disservice to voters to grossly oversimplify their opinions just to score political points.”

Hervey concluded the letter by calling on them discontinue or revise the ad. While he voiced support for the organization to advocate for its chosen candidates, he urged them “to do so without using misleading terms or rhetoric that further damage public trust in the independence, integrity and impartiality of our judicial system.”

In early September, the Bar sent out a press release regarding its clean campaign pledge. The agreement commits candidates to take “personal responsibility” for the content of their ads and statements they or their backers make during the campaign.

Brunner, Zayas and Jamison all signed it. Their Republican opponents did not.

The RSLC did not respond to a request for comment. But in an emailed statement Justice Brunner said, “I commend the Ohio State Bar Association for taking a stand on this important issue.”

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio early vote figures paint a muddled picture

The latest early voting figures from the Secretary of State’s office show a modest 1.8% increase compared to this point in the last midterm cycle. But there’s an interesting shift happening within those numbers.

Latest figures

Absentee ballot requests make up the lion’s share of the more than 1 million ballots cast or requested. They lag 2018 by about 22,000 ballots. The number of early votes cast in person, meanwhile, appears to be surging. The 135,889 ballots reported this Tuesday represents an almost 45% increase over the same point in the previous cycle.

“With two weeks until Election Day, any eligible Ohio voter still planning to vote absentee should mail their request in as soon as possible,” Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a press release. “Our bipartisan county boards of elections are working hard to conduct the proper checks and get ballots mailed out as quickly as possible.”

LaRose added that voters can also track their ballot online.

Now for the grain of salt — the secretary’s figures are unofficial, and the revisions can be substantial. Due to a data entry error, last week’s early in-person vote total dropped from more than 70,000 ballots cast to only about 50,000. A spokesman for the secretary of state explained they tally early vote totals through surveys sent out to county boards. He chalked up the mistake to human error and said they don’t expect to see further issues.

Even with the revisions to the previous week’s figures, 2022 was still outpacing 2018 in early in-person votes. But instead of the eye-popping 74% increase between cycles prior to the correction, the actual increase is more like 22%.

Partisan implications

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to vote early, but the glut of in-person ballots shouldn’t be too comforting. Democratic strongholds like Franklin, Hamilton and Cuyahoga counties are still far short of 2018’s eventual totals. Franklin’s roughly 10,000 ballots is less than a fifth of 2018’s final tally, Cuyahoga County is running at a similar rate. Hamilton’s roughly 7300 ballots is about a third of 2018’s early in-person total.

Meanwhile counties like Butler and Warren just north of Cincinnati and Medina to the west of Akron are all in the top ten for early in-person voting so far. All three are outpacing Cuyahoga County. All three backed Republican Jim Renacci in 2018 and Donald Trump in 2020.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.





Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Three takeaways from the final Ryan-Vance debate

Heated exchanges bookended Monday’s U.S. Senate debate in Youngstown. Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance criticized one another sharply on their records and stances. Digging into those conflicts offers a glimpse into their contrasting plans for the U.S. Senate.

Abortion: clarifying and obscuring positions

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Democrats around the country have attempted to make abortion a key campaign issue. Polling has repeatedly suggested it is among the most important issues to voters, but far removed from their top concern — the economy.

Ryan reiterated his support for codifying Roe v. Wade and warned Republicans want to institute a nationwide abortion ban.

“If the Republicans control the House and the Senate, we won’t be able to codify Roe v. Wade, which I think is the smart move, to move us away from chaos and back to some stability,” Ryan said. “So I will spend all my time trying to fight a national abortion ban.”

What that legislation might look like, however, is fraught. Ryan has co-sponsored a measure which would ensure a right to abortion before fetal viability. There is a competing measure, though, which could give states the flexibility to pass restrictions limiting access to the procedure as some states have done for decades.

After equivocating at the previous debate, Vance indicated Monday he would vote for a 15-week national abortion ban proposed by Lindsey Graham. But Vance also resisted taking a specific stance on what circumstances should allow people to get an abortion. He raised the idea of an exception for cases of incest.

“An incest exception looks different at three weeks of pregnancy versus 39 weeks of pregnancy,” Vance said. “So, I actually don’t think that you can say on a debate stage, every single thing that you’re going to vote for when it comes to an abortion piece of legislation.”

Vance argued instead that voters should look at his principles. As he describes it he wants to “save as many lives as possible,” ensure women aren’t “pressured” into abortions and they have adequate access to health care.

It’s worth noting Republican-led legislation to fund “crisis pregnancy centers” ensure people are often pressured not to have abortions. And an NPR analysis found the states with the stiffest abortion restrictions also have some of the most limited access to health care in the country.

Vance also turned the issue back on Ryan, painting him as an “extremist” who would allow “abortion without limits, up to 40 weeks of pregnancy.” The measure Ryan co-sponsored does allow for abortion after fetal viability if the mother’s life is in danger.

Here’s Kamala Harris stooge Tim Ryan defending abortion through 40 weeks. This is a barbaric position anywhere in the world (even European nations typically don’t allow abortion after 12 weeks). But it’s an especially radical position in Ohio. https://t.co/ObtePxlUHH
— J.D. Vance (@JDVance1) May 5, 2022

In May Vance made a similar critique on Twitter posting a clip of Ryan on Fox News. But in that interview, Ryan made an argument similar to Vance’s — that it’s difficult if not impossible to presuppose all the circumstances in legislation.

“You and I sitting here,” he told Fox’s Bret Baier, “can’t account for all of the different scenarios that a woman dealing with the complexities of a pregnancy are going through, how can you and I figure that out?”

Inflation v. Investment

The nominees took on economic issues as well offering different perspectives on federal spending in recent years. Vance criticized the Biden administration for fueling inflation specifically calling out the Inflation Reduction Act.

“First of all, we have to appreciate that we’re talking about $2 trillion in additional federal spending,” Vance said. “That’s not going to reduce inflation that’s adding more fuel to the fire of inflation.”

Prior to the pandemic, President Trump had already added $4.7 trillion to the national debt according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. By the time he left office, COVID relief measures that pushed that figure all the way to $7.8 trillion. CFRB estimates the Biden administration has so far added $4.8 trillion to the debt, but Ryan characterizes that spending as investments that have encouraged further private development.

“Do you not see what’s happening out in Lordstown?” Ryan asked Vance. “We have four vehicles out there—a truck, two cars, and a tractor. We have a battery plant across the street that was (a) $2.3 billion investment. This is the future for us, J.D.”

“Solar, gas, batteries, electric vehicles,” Ryan listed. “Honda, Ford, big companies investing into communities like ours. Foxconn has more cars out there. I don’t know how much clearer this could be, but this has been a good thing.”

Ryan isn’t the only one bragging about those investments. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is running ads taking credit for the same projects while deriding the federal spending that greased the skids. He’s also running ads directly criticizing his Democratic opponent Nan Whaley for favoring Biden’s American Rescue Plan. DeWine regularly takes credit for handing out funding from that measure.

In addition to reining in spending, Vance argued the Biden administration should loosen restrictions on the energy sector. He contended federal policy limiting pipelines and oil and gas leases have contributed to higher energy prices. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, meanwhile, pointed last month to increased global demand and reduced supplies due to the war in Ukraine.

Conflicting portrayals

The same way that Vance and Ryan draw disparate conclusions about the same spending, they offer conflicting versions of each other’s record.

Vance criticized Ryan for voting with Speaker Pelosi “100% of the time,” and criticized Ryan’s legislative accomplishments.

“He’s been in office for 20 years, (and) he’s passed five pieces of legislation, three of those pieces of legislation were renaming post offices in the Youngstown area.”

Ryan contends his accomplishments are not in the measures he’s sponsored but in the provisions he’s helped negotiate into legislation. He cited “buy American” language in the infrastructure law as an example, as well as natural gas and deficit reduction provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act.

“I got a lot of stuff in that bill that are priorities for Ohio,” he explained. “Of course you’re going to vote for the bill. That’s how the process works.”

Ryan touted his ability to work inside the legislative system with an eye toward compromise. In contrast, he repeatedly painted Vance as an extremist. He cited Vance’s rejection of recent bipartisan efforts like this year’s gun reform measure.

“(Republican Sen.) John Cornyn from Texas is for this. (Sen.) Rob Portman’s for it. Strong Second Amendment guys — but he was against it,” Ryan said. “We have to come together. You have to find points of agreement here. You’re not always going to get your way.”

Vance argued Ryan’s efforts simply haven’t been good enough, and he pitches himself as “a new direction.” He described going to a nearby diner before the debate and claimed a number of voters, some of them Democrats, approached him.

“You know what they said, Tim? They said Tim Ryan has been in office for 20 years, and he hasn’t done his damn job. That’s a direct quote from a union steel worker that you represent,” Vance said. “If you were half as good of a legislator as you pretend to be, Youngstown wouldn’t have lost 50,000 jobs and those steel workers would not be coming up to me telling me you failed them.”

In the final three weeks, the campaigns are fanning out across the state attempting to hammer home the appeals they made Monday in Youngstown.





Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Fireworks erupt as Ohio's Tim Ryan and J.D. Vance clash in contentious final debate

Ohio’s U.S. Senate nominees met Monday in a contentious, final debate of the campaign.

Polling has continued to show a dead heat within margins of error between Democratic candidate Tim Ryan and Republican candidate J.D. Vance, who are looking to replace outgoing Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.

Outside Youngstown’s Stambaugh Auditorium, a 1920’s marble-columned behemoth, two groups of supporters waved signs and chanted slogans for their favored candidate. Inside, it was less rowdy. Attendance was limited to members of the media.

Mining for disagreements

The fireworks started early after a pair of questions delving into the nominees’ perceived subservience to their party’s leaders. Former Vindicator columnist Bertram de Souza brought up Donald Trump’s quip at a local rally that “J.D. is kissing my ass.” He pressed Vance to describe some point of disagreement with the former president.

Vance pointed to figures in the Trump administration like John Bolton who lobbied for “limitless non-stop wars,” but quickly shifted to dismiss Trump’s comment.

“Donald Trump told a joke,” Vance said. “He told a joke at a rally based on a false New York Times story.”

That article suggested Vance and other candidates may not be enthusiastic about Trump visiting their states. Vance then turned the charge on Ryan, arguing he’s beholden to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer.

“The guy who’s subservient to the national party is Tim Ryan,” Vance argued, “who has been begging for these guys to come into this race and save him from the campaign that he’s been running.”

De Souza asked Ryan to describe an issue where he disagreed with Speaker Pelosi, and Ryan brought up his bid challenging her as House Speaker.

“You have to have the courage to take on your own leaders,” he said. Turning to Vance he added, “these leaders in D.C., they’ll eat you up like a chew toy.”

“Mitch McConnell gave you $40 million dollars to prop up your campaign. Peter Thiel gave you $15 million. That’s $55 million, J.D. What do you think they want for that?” Ryan asked. “They want your loyalty, and you proved that you’ll kiss their ass, too.”

Replacement Theory

The night closed on an acrimonious note as well. De Souza pressed Vance about his embrace of replacement theory, which contends that white citizens are being systematically replaced by non-white immigrants. The National Immigration Forum explains adherents believe there is a “plot designed to undermine or ‘replace’ the political power and culture of white people living in western countries.”

On stage, Vance offered a toned down version of the idea. He argued “Democratic leadership… say they want more and more immigration because if that happens they’ll ensure that Republicans are never able to win a national election.”

Vance added that his wife’s family immigrated to the country, but stressed that they came legally.

Ryan meanwhile cut right to the racism at the heart of replacement theory. He said the theory was the “primary motivator” of a mass shooting in May at a predominately Black grocery store in Buffalo.

“Some sicko got this information that he’s peddling,” Ryan said. “Again, those extremists that he runs around with, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ted Cruz, all these guys that want to stoke this racial violence.”

“We’re tired of it, J.D.” he said. “This kid goes to a grocery store in Buffalo where Black people shop and shoots them up. No. We want to move on from that.”

Ryan had struck a nerve, both said. He called Ryan disgusting, disgraceful, and shameful at different points.

“I’ll tell you exactly what happens, Tim,” he said. “What happens is that my own children, my 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 racism.”

“We’re sick of it,” Vance said. “You can believe in a border without being racist and you can believe in the country without being a racist, and this just shows how desperate this guy is for political power.”

Later this week Vance campaigns around the state with Sens. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Tim Ryan will be crisscrossing the state in the coming week but without any surrogates alongside.

Asked after the debate if he was concerned about his lack of support from national Democrats when Vance has had numerous visit and an influx of campaign cash, Ryan brushed it off.

“We don’t need them, we’re going to win without them,” he said.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio Republican group urges GOP and swing voters to reject J.D. Vance

With November’s election looming, a group of Republicans are hitting the campaign trail this week. But instead of stumping for the GOP, they’ll be encouraging voters to back the Democrat, Tim Ryan, in Ohio’s race for U.S. Senate.

They’re working with an organization called Welcome PAC which emphasizes Democratic Party outreach to independents and “future former Republicans.” LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is the group’s primary donor. The PAC contends there’s a large pool of swing voters who reject former President Donald Trump. They’ve made it their mission to encourage those voters to reject Trump allied candidates as well.

And that’s how Phil Heimlich found himself teaming up with a handful of other Ohio Republicans campaigning for Tim Ryan. Among them are two high level former staffers for outgoing U.S. Sen. Rob Portman — chief of staff John Bridgeland and legislative affairs director Jonathan Petuchowski. Former state Auditor James Petro, former state Rep. Rocky Saxbe, retired Major General Dennis Laich, and former Shelby County GOP chairman Chris Gibbs round out the list.

There are a lot of “formers” in that lineup, though. While they’re pitching a return to a different era of Republican politics, it’s possible the party has picked up and moved on without them. Vance’s campaign makes no bones about its position on WelcomePAC:

“Ohioans shouldn’t be fooled: this bogus organization isn’t ‘Republican’ — it’s a Democrat trick funded by a far-left super donor,” campaign spokesman Luke Schroeder said in a statement.

While Hoffman has donated to plenty of Democrats, he has also contributed the $13,700 legal maximum to Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, both of whom are Republicans.

Vance opposition

Heimlich himself is a former Cincinnati city councilmember and Hamilton County Commissioner, and he argued his conservative credentials are rock solid.

“I was never considered a kind of a wishy-washy RINO type,” he said.

Heimlich continues to describe himself as a loyal Republican, but said can’t support nominees who deny the 2020 election or countenance the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“We’re taking a stand against the wing of the Republican Party that engages in crazy conspiracies like Q-Anon, and, most importantly, we are choosing to put country over party,” Heimlich said. “J.D. Vance is lined up with the crazies, with the traitors. He has lined up with the people who tried to overthrow this government, the people who tried to overturn a legitimate election.”

“We are supporting Tim Ryan because we’re putting country first,” he continued. “Tim Ryan is not only a moderate Democrat, but he is a pro-democracy Democrat and he’s running against an anti-democracy Republican.”

This isn’t the first time Heimlich has made this sort of pitch. He and some of the same Republicans campaigning against Vance urged voters to reject Donald Trump in 2020. That effort, known as Operation Grant, invoked former president and civil war general Ulysses S. Grant’s role unifying the country.

Heimlich explained this latest coalition doesn’t oppose Republicans reflexively, but it isn’t just Vance he opposes.

Heimlich unsuccessfully challenged Ohio Republican U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson in the primary and criticized Davidson’s vote to overturn the 2020 election. He called out Ohio U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, too, describing him as a Republican who “put party over country.”

“In fact, they put one particular person, Donald Trump, over the interest of our country,” he added.

Split-ticket voting

When it comes to DeWine, Heimlich is more amenable. He expressed disappointment DeWine hasn’t made a more forceful stand against the former president, but credited him for not denying the election or praising insurrectionists.

“One of the things we’re saying to people is, look, if you’re a patriot, don’t vote the party line, vote the country line,” Heimlich said. “So, if you want to vote for Mike DeWine for governor, fine, but please don’t vote for an election denier like J.D. Vance. Vote for DeWine and then vote for Tim Ryan.”

Schroeder, with the Vance campaign, questioned the coalition’s Republican credentials. He argued it’s disingenuous to continue presenting themselves as part of the party.

“(The) individuals involved are donors to Tim Ryan, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and liberal PACs, and one member even served as a political appointee for President Obama,” Schroeder said. “It’s a shame that these individuals have chosen to lie to Ohioans about who they really are.”

In 2020, the Operation Grant pitch didn’t move Ohio into the win column for Joe Biden. Trump won the state by a margin nearly identical to his 2016 win. But in the aftermath, the organization argued it forced the Trump campaign expend resources in Ohio, which they say helped Biden win elsewhere.

This cycle, with the election limited to Ohio, they won’t have the same leeway. But then again, it’s far from clear Vance commands the same allegiance as the former president.

Organizers of the group expect to make stops in Youngstown, Toledo, Cleveland, Akron, and Dayton in the coming weeks.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican J.D. Vance facing backlash over comments about Somali community

In an interview last year, Republican Senate nominee J.D. Vance brought up violence in a Somali community to defend his hardline stance on immigration policy. Columbus is home to the second largest Somali community in the country.

Vance made the comments during an appearance on Jack Murphy Live last September.

Murphy is an interesting character in his own right. First, Murphy’s real name is John Goldman. He founded a $100-a-month private online men’s club called The Liminal Order after losing a job with a Washington D.C. charter school board.

The charter consulting firm that employed him has drawn scrutiny for its business practices, as has his blog under the Murphy pseudonym. When his writing and connections to the alt-right came to light, the school system placed him on administrative leave. He lost his job shortly after.

To make an exceptionally long story short, Murphy’s standing even within conservative circles has more recently come into question.

Pretty straightforwardly no, right?

Vance relayed a story from a friend about violence in a Somali neighborhood in Minneapolis known as Little Mogadishu.

“You have crazy things happening like some guy hatchets another person to death in Little Mogadishu,” Vance told Murphy. “Is it racist to not want that to be part of your community? That not to be part of your city?”

“I don’t think it is,” he continued. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the color of people’s skin, I think it has something to do with I don’t want people to get hatcheted to death in a community where I live.”

It was a strange pivot in a long-winded answer about the nature of what constitutes “an American.” Vance’s response actually started out pretty idealistic.

“Anybody who follows the rules for what’s required to become an American, who comes here, and works hard, who plays by the rules, who feels a sense of duty and obligation to the country, not just like they’re owed something (…) Those people are Americans,” Vance described.

But in the next breath he warned, “obviously I think we sometimes let in people into the country that don’t make great Americans.”

As an example, he brought up a survey showing 39% of Afghan respondents believed suicide bombing could be justified. Immigration hawks have recently resurfaced the nearly ten-year-old study to bolster their opposition for Afghan resettlement as the U.S. military prepared to pull out of the country.

“There’s a difficult question here,” Vance argued. “Are the people who believe those things, are they going to be successful at becoming American citizens? And is our country actually going to be enriched by them becoming American citizens? And to me, the answer is pretty straightforwardly no, right?”

Trying to preempt charges of racism, Vance added, “I frankly don’t care about the color of the skin of the people who are coming. It’s a question of whether they believe it’s okay to blow yourself up in a mall if you disagree with somebody.”

From that, Vance jumped straight into his story about a supposed hatchet attack in Minneapolis.

A bit of background

The first thing to mention about the second-hand story Vance shared is that it probably wasn’t a hatchet. There are examples of reporting about crime in Minneapolis’ Somali community, but no ready examples of a hatchet attack.

Instead, Vance was likely referring to Abu Kassim Jeilani. In 2002, five Minneapolis police officers shot and killed Jeilani as he walked down a street waving a machete and a crowbar. Jeilani’s family members said the 28-year-old Somali refugee had struggled with mental illness and didn’t speak English. Although Jeilani was holding a crowbar and a machete, he wasn’t violent and certainly hadn’t killed anyone. Witnesses said he wasn’t even acknowledging others on the street. He just repeated “Allahu akbar” — “god is good” — over and over again.

It’s also not the first time Vance has voiced doubts about people from Muslim majority countries being able to embrace Western-style liberal democracy. At a foreign policy conference earlier this year organized by The American Conservative and American Moment, he recounted his experience guarding a camp of a couple hundred men in Iraq.

He said their greatest challenge was preventing the older men from sexually assaulting the younger ones. He described reading two neo-conservative books arguing for a muscular American foreign policy that emphasized nation building as well as the complete Chronicles of Narnia.

“I remember having this like very distinct thought that I’m reading this ridiculous fantasy book about dragons and talking lions and witches and so forth, and it was more realistic about human nature than the two neo-conservative books,” Vance said.

He went on to argue policymakers missed the importance of “culture” in their calculations for foreign intervention.

“What is the nature of the country that we’re trying to transform?” he asked. “What’s its history, linguistic, religious tradition? Who are the people who live here, and do they want the foreign policy gifts that the United States comes to offer?”

The view from Columbus

In a small conference room on Columbus’ North side, Vance’s comments about the Somali community washed over Ismail Mohamed. His family fled Somalia in the late 1990s and eventually wound up in Columbus. He’s a lawyer and one of two Somali candidates for the Ohio House almost certain to win this November. Assuming they do, they’ll be the first Somali lawmakers to serve in the Ohio statehouse.

The other Somali candidate, Munira Abdullahi, declined to speak for this story.

“You know, clearly J.D. Vance did have a political agenda,” Mohamed said after listening to Vance’s comments.

Mohamed readily recalled the Minneapolis case, but he questioned how Vance deployed the story.

“To bring it up at that point, to bring up that one example?” he said. “That’s the image that people tend to paint, when they just pick one example that’s extreme and be like, okay, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to be stabbed to death, and of course, anybody would agree with that.”

Mohamed called it “disingenuous” for Vance to cherry-pick one incident for political purposes but stopped short of taking personal offense. He argued that while some immigrants do commit crimes, research suggests they’re generally less violent than American citizens.

Citizenship cases make up a substantial share of Mohamed’s practice. He recognizes the importance of new residents finding ways to integrate and participate in American culture. But he pushes back on the idea of assimilation.

“People should learn English. They should want to be part of the community — be friendly, be neighborly, that’s okay,” he explained. “But not to a point where they have to erase who they are, erase their culture.”

Mohamed encouraged Vance to visit. He explained Somalis in Columbus have worked hard to carve a place for themselves and contribute to the broader community.

“We have over 300 businesses from cafes to restaurants to car mechanics to the trucking industry, which is huge in our community,” he explained. “We’re bringing millions of dollars in taxes, and we’re contributing to the overall economy.”

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Fans frustrated Crew owners hosting fundraiser for J.D. Vance

Republican U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance will visit Columbus in three weeks for a campaign fundraiser hosted by owners of the Columbus Crew professional soccer team. Team supporters are unhappy and see it as a reversal from previous decisions to avoid politics.

Extraordinarily disappointed

Morgan Hughes co-founded Save The Crew and remains active in the community of team supporters. In June, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision reversing Roe v. Wade, he and other fans wanted a response from the team. Other clubs, like Portland Timbers were quick to issue statements supporting abortion rights.

That’s not what Hughes got.

In a screenshot posted to Twitter, he shared an email from the team to the fan organization known as The Nordecke. “The best approach is for the club to stay out of politics and focus on being inclusive to the Crew community and state of Ohio,” the statement read. Team leaders went on to argue they didn’t want to alienate staff, players, or fans who supported the decision.

“I’m extraordinarily disappointed, to say the least,” Hughes said of team owners’ decision to host a campaign event for J.D. Vance.

The fundraiser

Tickets start at $500 for the private event at the Athletic Club in downtown Columbus. Top-tier, $10,000 “event chair” ticket holders get to join Vance for a private half-hour roundtable. For $5,800 or more, you can get a picture with Vance. The first $2,900 attendees donate will go toward retiring the loan Vance made to his campaign during the primary.

Crew owners Dr. Pete Edwards and Dee and Jimmy Haslam are among ten people hosting the event. The Haslams also own the Cleveland Browns.

Two Schottenstein families are lending a hand, as well. Jay Schottenstein, who heads up American Eagle and Designer Brands, will be there with his wife Jeannie. Real estate developer Gary Schottenstein and his wife Terri will be there, too.

Also on the list are Drive Capital’s Mark Kvamme and Martin and Alyssa Savko, whose construction firm Savko & Sons hosted then-Vice President Mike Pence in 2020.

Requests for comment left with the Crew’s front office got no response. J.D. Vance’s campaign didn’t respond either.

Walk and talk

To Hughes, team ownership hosting a fundraiser for a self-professed “100% pro-life” candidate just months after studiously avoiding a position on the issue amounts to a reversal.

“Abortion bans, they amount to people — real humans — being used as bargaining chips in a culture war,” he said. “And our ownership said that they weren’t going to be involved in that, and here they are getting involved in it.”

Repeatedly, Hughes emphasized that their “talk” didn’t line up with their “walk.”

“You know,” he went on, “you cannot say one thing and do another without at least losing your credibility, and worst losing your fan base.”

Hughes wasn’t the only one disappointed with the team’s response to the Dobbs decision. The Nordecke urged spectators to boycott alcohol sales at the following home game and instead donate to the Abortion Fund of Ohio.

Nordecke community director Jo Rodgers stepped down from her position arguing the team’s deliberate inaction was itself an action.

“I can no longer go into that community and tell them with any confidence that the Crew has their backs,” she wrote. “They don’t have mine or those of women who only want to make decisions about their own bodies with their families and doctors.”

The group Crew 4 All organized after the team’s statement as well, announcing their presence with a large banner reading “we dissent.” In a statement Wednesday the group expressed disappointment that ownership would back Vance but noted “they are afforded that opportunity.” In response they argued, “we will continue to use our voice and visibility to fight for equality for all.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Family of Donovan Lewis demand accountability after police killing

A stream of Donovan Lewis’ family members and friends filed into a hotel meeting room in downtown Columbus Thursday. His mother Rebecca Duran sobbed quietly as the family’s attorney replayed the video of a Columbus police officer shooting Lewis while serving a warrant early Tuesday morning.

Doctors pronounced him dead at Grant Hospital less than an hour later.

Three shootings, eight days

“Tuesday’s fatal police shooting resulted in a tragic loss of life,” Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said in an emailed statement.

“Regardless of the circumstances, a mother has lost her son in the city of Columbus,” he went on. “Transparency, accountability and cooperation-these are our bedrock values, and they will inform every step forward as we uncover the facts.”

A police spokesman declined further comment noting the ongoing investigation.

The incident that led to 20-year-old Lewis’ death is one of three police shootings in the space of eight days. Last Saturday, an officer shot a seventeen-year-old during a traffic stop on Main Street, and on Monday the 22nd, an officer discharged his weapon while pursuing three suspects during a public disturbance call.

State officials with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation are leading the investigation into the first two incidents, as is standard practice when CPD shoots a resident. Because no one was hit in the third incident, CPD is handling the investigation itself.

Questions about Lewis shooting

The family has hired Rex Elliott from the law firm Cooper Elliott to handle an eventual civil case. Family members didn’t speak at the Thursday morning press conference, but Elliott raised several questions about police conduct.

“First of all, I’d like to know why in the world they are executing warrants two o’clock in the morning,” he said.

“The explanation by Chief Bryant that, ‘well, we do that because we have to be sure that they’re at home’ is nonsense,” he continued.

Elliott contends Officer Ricky Anderson was acting recklessly when he fired on Lewis — unarmed and rising from his bed. Roughly three seconds elapse between the door opening and Anderson firing. But the room was dark, and once a police flashlight lit Lewis up, Anderson pulled the trigger almost instantaneously.

“There is absolutely no way, in the timeframe between when the door was open and the gun was fired,” Elliott explained, “that Officer Anderson perceived a potential gun in his hand, got through to his brain and then reacted by shooting his weapon.”

Elliott said the family is seeking accountability. They want Anderson punished and “off the street.” He added the family has felt and appreciated the support of the community, but that they urged demonstrators to remain peaceful.


This isn’t the first rash of officer involved shootings to roil the city of Columbus. The killings of Casey Goodson Jr. and Andre Hill just weeks apart in December 2020 helped prompt a number of reforms in the division — including firing the former chief, installing a citizen review board, and even offering buyouts to weed out officers resistant to reform.

Elliott said those efforts clearly haven’t been good enough.

“It’s a lot of talk, and not a lot of action,” Elliott argued. “Yes, Chief (Elaine) Bryant was hired to step up activity so this doesn’t happen, but here we are today. And what I’d say is whatever they’re doing, is not working.”

Since the killings of Goodson and Hill, law enforcement officers in Columbus have shot and killed five people, according to the Washington Post police shootings database. One of those incidents, the killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, grabbed national headlines.

There have been some tentative steps toward accountability, however. The police officer who killed Hill and the sheriff’s deputy who killed Goodson are both facing murder charges. They have both pleaded not guilty.

Former officer Adam Coy, who shot Hill, goes to trial in November. Meanwhile former deputy Jason Meade goes to court in December — a little more than two years after he shot and killed Goodson.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

J.D. Vance’s transformation from Trump translator to MAGA combatant

Since publishing his memoir Hillbilly Elegy, Republican U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance has been on something of an ongoing lecture tour.

The book wove together the opioid crisis and the challenges of growing up in poverty in an industrial community in decline. But most fortuitous for Vance, it came out as Donald Trump was ascending to the presidency. Arriving as it did, the book was said to offer a window into the communities that were throwing their support behind the eventual president, and so Vance’s perspective was in high demand.

In book lectures and podcast appearances, Vance laid out not just his explanation of what ails the Middletowns of America, but what he believes could help them recover. Already a frequent blogger about politics, the success of his book gave Vance greater entrée into the world of conservatism. In addition to talking about his memoir, Vance was soon delivering addresses about the future of the movement as well.

Wending through more than eight hours of speeches, discussions and Q&As over the past six years, a number of themes emerge — Vance’s growing skepticism for “elite” institutions, his preoccupation with a particular vision of the family, and an unmistakable shift toward aggressive political rhetoric.

Among Vance’s pronouncements are appeals to Victor Orbán-style social policies, a proposal that parents get additional votes based on how many kids they have, as well as the dubious suggestions that corporations favor abortion access to keep labor costs low and that Amazon gave money to Black Lives Matter in hopes of harming brick and mortar competitors.

Tone shift

From the outset, Vance’s discussions have been concerned with politics. One interviewer described him as the “Trump whisperer” because of his seeming ability to translate what’s on the minds of rural voters and why they backed Donald Trump. In those early conversations, Vance both embraces and downplays this role. He describes Trump as a “middle finger” to the country’s elites, but also warns there is no “magic bullet” to help fortify declining families and towns.

But throughout, politics remains abstract — a serious concern, but a topic of discussion rather than a battleground. Even at explicitly political events, like 2019’s National Conservatism conference, Vance’s discussion of “Conservatism beyond Libertarianism” is concerned more with the prevalence of opioids and how online bullying and porn isolate young people. The chief target of his criticism was conservatives themselves for being too skeptical of political power to exercise it when necessary.

“If people are spending too much time addicted to devices that are designed to addict them we can’t just blame consumer choice,” he said. “We have to blame ourselves for not doing something to stop it.”

As late as January 2021 in a discussion with North Dakota State’s Challey Institute, Vance remained optimistic, and described political rancor as driven by “something further upstream.”

“When you look at people on the other side of the political aisle and you see them as not people who disagree politically but occupants of almost a totally different country then I think the divisiveness in our political debate is almost inevitable,” Vance said. “So the way to solve it, I think, is to actually start to bring some sense of national cohesion back.”

Although he recognizes political divisions, it’s as if he’s not yet a participant. He referenced Biden’s impending inauguration off-hand, but less than two weeks out, the Jan. 6 insurrection wasn’t even mentioned.

Somewhere in early 2021, however, Vance’s tone takes a hard rightward turn. That May, shortly before declaring his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Vance argued at The Clermont Institute that restoring a 1950s version of the nuclear family ought to be a core aim of the conservative movement.

“I think that we should fight for the right of every American to live a good life in the country they call their own, to raise a family in dignity on a single middle-class job,” Vance told the crowd.

He went on, railing against “woke” corporations.

“If you are fighting the American nation state, if you are fighting the values and virtues that make this country great,” Vance warned, “the conservative movement should be about nothing, if not reducing your power and if necessary, destroying you.”

The family

In 2017 at the University of Chicago, Vance argued policymakers are too preoccupied with the nuclear family to the detriment of extended families. He argued kinship care, where grandparents or other relatives step in as caretakers, is often better than relying on the foster system. He said policymakers should simplify the legal process and even offer financial aid.

Since then, Ohio lawmakers actually have taken some modest steps in that direction. At the end of 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 310 and an executive order which directed COVID-19 relief funding to kinship caregivers. The measure’s lead sponsor was Vance’s primary opponent Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, and the bill picked up broad support across the aisle.

But more recently Vance’s policy prescriptions around families have taken a turn to some eye-opening places.

Last month VICE uncovered a talk he gave in 2021 at Pacifica Christian High School in which he suggested it was better for children when parents stuck out unhappy or even violent marriages.

“These marriages were fundamentally you know, they were maybe even violent, but certainly they were unhappy, and so getting rid of them and making it easier for people to shift spouses like they change their underwear, that’s going to make people happier in the long term,” Vance said. “And maybe it worked out for the moms and dads, though I’m skeptical, but it really didn’t work out for the kids in those marriages.”

The Vance campaign has disputed the characterization of the VICE article, but not underlying statement. In a WEWS story, senior strategist Jai Chabria called it “preposterous” that Vance supports staying in violent relationships.

“All he is saying is that it is far too often the case where couples get divorced, they split up and they don’t take the kids needs into consideration,” Chabria said.

During the same speech at Pacifica High, Vance invoked a financial incentive policy for families introduced by Hungarian prime minister Victor Orbán — darling of American conservative figures like Tucker Carlson because his pugilistic pursuit of a “Christian Democracy” suggests a path for cementing conservative control in America. A few days later, Vance brought up the same policy at The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, calling Orbán the “bugaboo of nearly every liberal in the mainstream American media.”

“They offer loans to new married couples that are forgiven at some point later if those couples eventually stay together and have children,” Vance explained. “Why can’t we do that here? Why can’t we actually promote family formation here in our country? Why can’t we give resources to parents who tell us the only reason they’re not having kids is because they can’t afford it?”

It’s a far cry from Reagan-era GOP criticism of “welfare queens,” and in a sense, the idea isn’t that far from the expanded child tax credit introduced during the pandemic. Asked whether the child tax credit would address Vance’s policy goals, his campaign didn’t respond.

Vance has repeatedly argued that families should be able to support themselves on “one middle class wage,” but he doesn’t just advocate a positive policy vision — he also criticizes those who choose not to start families. He described the “childless left” as “perhaps the most pernicious and most evil thing the left has done.” Last November in another speech at the National Conservatism Conference that critique took on an explicitly anti-feminist tone.

“The fundamental lie of American feminism over the past 20 or 30 years is that is liberating for a woman to go and work 90 hours a week in a cubicle at Goldman Sachs shipping her fellow countrymen’s jobs off to a regime that hates them. That is liberation compared to the problems of family and patriarchy in our modern society.”

Vance contends people who don’t have children don’t have a “personal and direct stake” in the country’s future, and that there should be consequences for that decision.

“Let’s give votes to all children in this country, but let’s give control over those votes to the parents of those children,” Vance argued at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. “When you go to the polls in this country, as a parent, you should have more power. You should have more of an ability to speak your voice in our democratic republic than people who don’t have kids.”

He went on, anticipating the pushback. “Doesn’t this mean that non-parents don’t have as much of a voice as parents?” he asked, “Doesn’t this mean that parents get a bigger say in how our democracy functions?”

“Yes. Absolutely,” he said as the crowd applauded.

In an emailed statement, Vance campaign press secretary Luke Schroeder wrote, “J.D. does support pro-family policies and stands by his comments in those speeches. The fact that so many American companies are offering thousands of dollars for abortion services but nothing for moms and dads who choose to have families gives lie to the idea that this is about choice.”

“For far too long our leaders have neglected American families,” he continued. “We need to fight for policies that’ll strengthen families and provide stable, positive upbringings for every child. This used to be a country where Americans could support their family, and live a comfortable middle-class life, on a single income. That changed when corporations decided to trade a working class with well-paying jobs here at home for cheap labor overseas. It’s time we make families a priority again, and that starts with bold ideas.”

Elite skepticism

In 2016, shortly before Donald Trump won the election, Vance sat down for an interview with Uncommon Knowledge at The Hoover Institution. He argued the sense among white working-class voters that “elites” looked down on them was “partially right.” But the failing, as he described it at the time, was mutual. Elites reducing voters to one dimensional actors driven by little more than racism only propels the worst assumptions about elites, he said.

“As much as I disagree with so many folks back home about Trump in particular, I think that the reaction of a lot of elites to Trump-ism, or the Trump voter, feeds into the very worst narratives of how elites feel about the rest of the country,” Vance said.

A year later he delivered a similar message at The Aspen Institute, calling anti-elite sentiment “the animating force” of contemporary politics. He argued that, while unfortunate, that mistrust is well earned after catastrophic blunders like the Iraq war and the Great Recession. Still, he expressed some measure of optimism that the country’s divisions could be overcome.

“More geographic mobility, more social mobility would really help,” Vance said. “But at a fundamental level we have to get people in the same room together in a way that was much truer of our society 30 years ago than it is today.”

Now, instead of describing anti-elite sentiment at elite forums, Vance stokes the flames.

Last year at the National Conservatism Conference he delivered a speech entitled “The Universities are the Enemy,” in which he claimed higher education has become an organ of progressive politics. Seizing on critical race theory he argued, “It’s not about uplifting minorities. It’s not about healing our planet. It’s not about looking after the poor.”

“Progressive politics is a language,” he continued, “a language used by our new oligarchy to do two things: on the one hand to rob the American people blind, and on the second hand to tell them to shut the hell up about it if they dare complain.”

Further illustrating his sharp partisan turn, in an aside Vance noted the issue might help elect Glenn Youngkin governor in Virginia. He delivered his speech in the evening on election day as Virginia ballots were being tallied, and he cracked a joke about 2020 election conspiracies.

“I heard somebody say he won. I remember a similar feeling about a year ago, certain that my guy won, and it turned out that there was some toilet problems as the late night counting (went on),” he quipped, in an apparent reference to flooding in Georgia that delayed the count of absentee ballots in 2020.

Vance argues that the financial system is built to deliver benefits to elite institutions like nonprofits and universities sitting on lightly taxed endowments as well as large corporations that are able to shift their earnings overseas to avoid taxes at home.

He contends the incentive structure makes it easy to neglect pressing social issues at home and far too easy to pursue disastrous adventures overseas.

“Let’s just be honest with ourselves,” he said earlier this year. “A lot of people get very rich when America goes to war.”

Vance was the lone voice in Ohio’s Republican U.S. Senate primary to stake out a position opposing U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine, and he argued that policymakers ignore the border and the opioid crisis because “nobody gets very wealthy” solving those problems.

There is no leadership in damning women to the whims of yet another test of our humanity. #HB481 is bad for women bc reproductive injustice is real. It is bad for business bc women won’t forget. And it is a stain on a state that once knew how to light & lead the way. #Shame /end
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) March 29, 2019

But he carries the concern with financial incentives to even more dubious territory. At the Clermont institute he referenced Stacey Abrams’ argument that a Georgia abortion law would be “bad for business” to claim that corporations support abortion access because it reduces their cost of labor.

“This is something those of us on the right have to accept — is that when the big corporations come against you for passing abortion restrictions, corporations are so desperate for cheap labor that they don’t want people to parent children,” Vance argued.

Ironically Abrams’ point, coming at the end of a twitter thread, actually emphasized how little concern business leaders were showing about the legislation.

Later in the same speech Vance decried “woke capital” as a force that not only distorts political debate but also directly harms the country.

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A post shared by Jeff Bezos (@jeffbezos)

“The best example, of course, is Jeff Bezos, one of the largest funders of the Black Lives Matter movement in this country to the tune of millions of dollars,” Vance said.

“Who benefits most when small businesses on Main Street are destroyed? Who gets to see their competitors unable to deliver goods and services to people so that you get it delivered in your brown Amazon box? Jeff Bezos,” Vance continued. “There is a direct connection between woke capital and the plunder that’s happening in our society today.”

Schroeder addressed the Amazon claims in his email as well stating, “it is undeniable that the summer of violence encouraged by ‘racial justice’ protesters helped the bottom line of big tech companies while they crushed local businesses.”

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment, but in 2020, Bezos posted an email from a customer complaining about the company’s contribution on his personal Instagram page. He shared his response to that email as well, writing in part that “Black lives matter speaks to racism and the disproportionate risk that Black people face in our law enforcement system.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

'Rooted in racism': Black Ohio lawmakers take aim at Vance over comments likening abortion to slavery

A month out from the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Ohio Democrats are doing their best to keep abortion on voters’ minds. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus is criticizing Republican U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance over comments likening the impact of slavery to that of abortion.

In an interview with the Catholic Current last year, Vance emphasized the societal impact of abortion in describing his opposition to the procedure.

“There’s something comparable between abortion and slavery,” Vance said, “and that while the people who obviously suffer the most are those subjected to it, I think it has this morally distorting effect on the entire society.”

He went on to invoke Abraham Lincoln’s “I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master,” and opine that many people now see children as “inconveniences to be discarded instead of blessings to cherish.”

State Rep. Terrence Upchurch, D-Cleveland, called Vance’s comments “dangerous” and “out of bounds.”

“J.D. Vance’s disgusting views on abortion are an outrage and Ohioans are taking note,” he said.

Upchurch argued Vance owes Ohioans an apology. But Rep. Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati, doesn’t want to hear it.

“I don’t want his apology as a Black female here in the state of Ohio,” she said. “Looking at Black maternal health issues that we have, and how desperate the health care is, how desperate our housing is, and then you have the audacity to take away a decision that women can make for themselves?”

“How dare you insult Black women?” she added.

Vance’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, who heads up the OLBC didn’t mince words about Vance’s comments.

“What J.D. Vance is doing comparing abortion to slavery is rooted in racism,” she insisted.

But Brent didn’t draw the line at Vance, either. She also took aim at Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, the Republican nominee running in the 13th Congressional District which covers Akron and most of Canton.

“Madison (in) House District 13 had the nerve to say that abortion is the number one killer for Black babies — so problematic,” Brent said, “when we’ve got cardiac arrest, homicide, cancer, other diseases that are killing Black people disproportionately.”

Gesiotto Gilbert has made this claim repeatedly, asserting in one 2015 op-ed “it is a scientific fact that life begins at conception,” and then comparing the number of abortions to the number people who die from heart disease, cancer and other circumstances.

The number of abortions does outstrip deaths, but Gesiotto Gilbert’s claim only holds water if you consider an embryo or a fetus a person. These numbers are not included in death statistics from public health authorities.





Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio's Tim Ryan has a problem

Gas and groceries are both spiking. Ongoing supply chain disruptions mean shelves are bare, and getting inflation under control with the Fed raising interest rates is going to sting as well. Consumers will pay more for everything from credit cards to mortgages. Homeowners looking to sell are going walk away with much less than they would’ve a few months ago.

Meanwhile, Democrats are having trouble selling their achievements to voters. President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and a long-awaited infrastructure package have underwritten many of the investments touted by Republicans like Gov. Mike DeWine, but those successes soured amid a fight over the filibuster in the U.S. Senate.

Add to that the traditional midterm headwinds, and the ten-term congressman from Niles really has his work cut out for him.

READ: 'Shameful': GOP colluding with autocratic Orban government

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court may have provided an opening with its Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. A few generic ballot polls suggests a swing away from the GOP, but the trend still favors Republicans and November is a long way away. At the same time, many are already voicing frustration with the Democratic nostrum “go vote” when the party already controls Congress and the White House.

To navigate this landscape, Ryan is betting big on winning voters in the middle.

Running toward the center isn’t a novel strategy, but the way Ryan is pursuing it might be. In a series of campaign ads, he pitches tax cuts and his affinity with police. He emphasizes where he departs from his own party as well as where he agrees with perhaps the most toxic political figure in living memory.

READ: Another top Trump aide agrees to publicly testify before J6 committee: CNN

“When Obama’s trade deal threatened jobs here, I voted against it, and I voted with Trump on trade,” he said in one ad. “I don’t answer to any political party. I answer to the folks I grew up with, and the families like yours all across Ohio.”

Instead of simply distancing himself from an unpopular Biden administration, Ryan appears to be going a step further, distancing himself from the party as well. He’s aiming to establish himself in the minds of voters as a singular figure whose personal politics, or record, or brand supersede party designation.

“Yeah, I mean, I think the Democratic Party has made some big mistakes,” he said in an interview a few weeks ago.

READ: Joe Rogan is politically illiterate

He argued the party’s trade and economic policies have left working class voters out of the equation.

“I just feel like both parties are in many ways, outdated,” Ryan explained. “I just fear that both parties right now are not connected to what the vast majority of the people are going through, and I talk a lot about the exhausted majority, and I think that’s where most people are.”

Despite Donald Trump notching back-to-back 8-point wins in Ohio, initial polling puts the race far closer to a toss-up, suggesting there is a path, albeit narrow, for a Ryan victory. But his approach means betting on not just identifying this “exhausted majority” coalition, but that Ryan’s own personal charisma can appeal to them.

Run to the Rock

Ryan shows up for most events in a dress shirt unbuttoned at the collar and rolled loosely at the cuffs. Although he’s pushing 50 and greying, he’s energetic and easygoing. People who know him regularly bring up his time as a quarterback in high school to explain his leadership or dependability. That also probably explains his bearpaw handshake. Central casting would send him in as a little league coach or maybe the dad yelling “who wants cheese on their burger?” in a backyard barbecue scene.

Former Mahoning County Democratic Party chair David Betras praised his retail politics. “I’ve seen him talk to a room and you can hear a pin drop,” he said. Karen Zehr, the party’s secretary in Trumbull County described him giving his card to an 8-year-old supporter on election night, and telling him to call about helping on a campaign when he turned 18.

Trumbull County Democratic Party vice chair Kathy DiCristofaro emphasized his ability to connect with a crowd. After an event in Ashtabula she remembered audience members coming up to ask about his grandpa’s garden because Ryan referenced it in the speech.

“You’re going up to a U.S. Senate candidate and you’re not asking him about a political issue?” she said. “You’re asking him something personal because you connected with that.”

Father Ron Nuzzi has known Ryan all his life. He retired in 2017 as an emeritus professor at Notre Dame after helping set up and run a program for aspiring Catholic school leaders. He’s a close Ryan family friend and confidant. At about 15 years his senior, Nuzzi was a mentor and something like an older brother as Ryan grew up.

Shedding light on how Ryan approaches difficult problems, Nuzzi brought up their whitewater rafting trips on the Youghiogheny River. He described how the current sometimes forces the boat toward large rocks.

“When you’re in a situation like that you have to do something counterintuitive — you have to run to the rock,” Nuzzi said.

If you shy away, Nuzzi explained, the boat will be too light where it makes contact, and you run the risk of getting stuck on the rock and eventually capsizing.

“So that expression ‘run to the rock,’ we use it today to mean to face danger, to go into a difficult situation — but you’ve got to get everybody to come with you,” he said.

“You’ve got to try to bring people along, face the issues; it’s the only way to get by it,” Nuzzi added.

I’ll meet you over there

On two of the hottest button issues in national politics, however, Ryan initially staked out positions where his party wouldn’t follow. Abortion and gun policy have experienced arguably seismic shifts in just the last few weeks, but early on in Congress, Ryan was an abortion opponent and even earned an A rating from the NRA. He’s since changed his tune on both issues, and he’s earned the endorsement of prominent organizations like NARAL and the Giffords PAC.

The weekend after the Dobbs decision, Ryan joined Ohio Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Nan Whaley at a rally in Columbus. Organizers estimated a crowd of 3,000 swelled the west side of the Ohio Statehouse.

Ryan described learning about the decision during a committee hearing, and getting a text message from his daughter, who’s doing an internship in D.C. His daughter said she was going to the Supreme Court to protest.

“18-years-old,” he said, as if still not quite believing it. “I texted her back something I never thought I’d text her — I said I’ll meet you over there.”

In a 2015 op-ed Ryan explained his change of heart on abortion as a re-assessment of beliefs inherited from his Catholic upbringing. He emphasized the need for policy changes to provide education, contraceptives and affordable health care to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.

“I have come a long way since being a single, 26-year-old state senator, and I am not afraid to say that my position has evolved as my experiences have broadened, deepened and become more personal,” Ryan wrote.

The shift came gradually, as he described it, after numerous conversations with people facing difficult, and at times, life-threatening circumstances. It’s too complex, Ryan argued, “to be anything but a personal decision.”

When it comes to guns, Ryan has little trouble identifying the Sandy Hook school shooting as the turning point. He’s quick to mention that his wife is a school teacher, and although he grew up hunting and still enjoys it, he believes restrictions on gun ownership are necessary.

Shortly before Congress passed a bipartisan gun violence prevention measure last month, he voiced support for the plan, zeroing in specifically on heightened background checks for younger gun buyers and federal support for states establishing red flag laws.

At the same time, Ryan chastised Gov. DeWine’s signature of a measure arming teachers.

“We’ve seen the videos of these things,” Ryan said. “You need years of training, years of experience to be able to handle a firearm in a school full of kids with someone firing semi-automatic rifle. The last thing you want are teachers who accidentally shoot kids.”

He went on to highlight opposition from law enforcement. “I’m with the cops,” he said, “it’s a bad idea.”

To some on the left, Ryan’s movement on two major issues feels opportunistic, and it seems notable in a race where the chief attack against his opponent J.D. Vance is his rapid, 180-degree turnaround on Donald Trump — going from describing him as cultural heroin to calling him “the greatest president of my lifetime.”

“Well, the English language does not yet have a word to cover the level of fraudulence that comes from J.D. Vance,” Ryan quipped.

He argued his voting record shows the shift happening as a slow progression rather than the flip of a switch, “it’s about listening and learning,” he said.

He suggested supporting gun control and abortion access don’t help his case in the way a GOP primary candidate pledging fealty to Donald Trump might.

Whatever motivated Ryan’s moves, his calibration on both issues is another bet on the middle. In both cases, Ryan couches his position in common sense rather than strident partisanship — leaning on the fact that the majority of voters favor access and limits when it comes to guns and abortion.

And that approach has helped, at least among those who know him. Father Nuzzi and others don’t necessarily agree with Ryan on abortion or guns, but nevertheless count themselves supporters.

Cleaned his clock

From his start in politics as a state senator in 1999, Ryan’s core constituency has been organized labor, and he’s quick to remind that trade was the key issue when he faced long-serving Congressman Tom Sawyer in his first congressional primary.

“Tim cleaned his clock,” former Mahoning Country Democratic chair David Betras recalled, “because that guy voted for NAFTA and Tim has been against NAFTA since day one.”

Trade is familiar territory for a congressman who can recite local plant closures like a litany, and the issue has an established track record as part of Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign playbook. What’s more, it’s a place where Ryan can distinguish himself from party leaders, potentially bolstering his stock with centrists.

Marty Loney wears a lot of hats in the Mahoning Valley, heading up the building trades, working for the plumbers and pipefitters local and chairing the western reserve port authority, and that means he and Ryan have gotten to know each other.

“You fall in love with a politician and you’re going to be disappointed,” he told me. “But on the other hand, I know I can pick up the phone and say, ‘Tim, I need to do this,’ or whatever and it’ll get done.”

But Ryan’s first foray toward making trade the defining issue in this election underscores just how fine a line he needs to tread.

His first campaign ad featured Ryan saying “China” repeatedly. The ad alienated some Asian voters who heard a racist dog whistle rather than a critique of another country’s economic policies.

“Playing to right-wing nationalism and fanning anti-China hate will come at a cost at the ballot box in November, while writing off the fastest growing ethnic group in the state as acceptable collateral damage,” Asian American Midwest Progressives wrote in an open letter condemning the ad and urging Ryan to take it down.

Ryan insisted his ire was directed at the Chinese government, and not people of Chinese or any other Asian descent. But the ad did come down shortly afterward. The campaign described it as a pre-planned traffic change. And since then, Ryan has attempted to mend fences a bit. He issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s murder — a Chinese American man killed by two white autoworkers.

“As we work to rebuild our state and revitalize manufacturing,” Ryan wrote, “I’ll keep working to recognize the contributions of Asian Americans and make sure law enforcement has the resources they need to prevent and prosecute hate crimes.”

To Loney, Ryan’s biggest liability may be his longevity in office. But then again, he said, you don’t get reelected for 20 years if you aren’t doing something right. He has watched as the Mahoning Valley has gone from what he described as heavily Democratic to more like 55-45, and he doesn’t see anything wrong with Ryan’s positioning on trade.

“If you really go through that, he says he voted against Obama’s trade deal and voted for Trump’s,” Loney said. “So, what’s that tell you? It tells you I’m going to do what I think is best for Ohio, right? And his constituents here, which I’m in agreement with.”

Cutting that path between the parties could help Ryan build a broad coalition, but it could just as easily leave him out on island, energizing neither major party’s base and delivering a message that may not move the needle for undecided voters.

Can’t fault him

Ohio’s recent electoral history offers mixed results. Trump won the state back-to-back, but political scientists are quick to warn Barack Obama did, too, and those wins aren’t exactly ancient history. In 2018, Republicans picked up every statewide executive position from governor to auditor, but in the same election Sherrod Brown outperformed all of them on his way to reelection.

The Cook Political Report grades the Ohio Senate race as “leans Republican” and Sabato’s Crystal Ball puts it at “likely Republican.”

“I can’t fault what he’s doing at a campaign level,” Republican strategist Mike Hartley said of Ryan’s pitch to centrists.

“I mean, god, that ad, ‘I agreed with Trump on trade,’ I’m like — holy s***,” he said in disbelief, before adding, “He realizes the math.”

The equation is pretty simple, as Hartley sees it. Democrats are in control in Washington, D.C. and inflation is high. Meanwhile, with the Senate balanced at 50/50 the election could determine which party is in control going forward. He acknowledges the Dobbs decision could have an impact, but he believes economic frustrations will drown it out.

“Not all of them,” Hartley said of Republican voters, “but ultimately the majority of them will put aside who they were for in the primary to make sure that remains a Republican seat.”

But longtime Democratic political consultant Jerry Austin, senses weakness in J.D. Vance’s GOP primary win.

“With Trump’s endorsement he won the race for the nomination,” Austin said, “even though almost 70% of the voters voted for somebody else.”

He’s realistic about those who backed conservative firebrands like Josh Mandel or Mike Gibbons — those voters are likely to vote for Vance. But Austin thinks the traditional, Reagan-style Republicans who voted for Matt Dolan might be a different story.

“Those people have a real decision to make,” he said. “Will they now come back and vote for who won their primary, Vance, or will they consider voting for Ryan, who they probably know better than Vance anyway, or do they sit out the election?”

“Ryan can win this,” Austin insisted, “but he needs votes from non-traditional Democrats, independents, people who voted for Dolan.”

While Austin emphasizes the negative space in Vance’s GOP primary win, Ohio State political scientist Paul Beck notes Vance had the worst marks among any candidate, Democrat or Republican, when pollsters asked respondents who they found “unacceptable” ahead of the primary.

Like Austin, Beck sees a path for Ryan, but it’s a difficult one.

He raises the now-familiar Democratic formula of win urban counties, fight hard in the suburbs, and lose — but lose better — everywhere else.

“They’ve left votes on the table in rural areas,” Beck said of Democrats in recent races.

“By the way,” he added, “Sherrod Brown has been successful in appealing to them. He’s not going to win these small towns and rural areas in the aggregate, but he’s done a good 10 points better than either of the two elections with Biden and then Hilary back in 2016.”

If Ryan is correct — that there is some untapped coalition of voters out there exhausted by partisan fighting — that coalition will likely look a lot like the one that sent Sherrod Brown back to the Senate in 2018.

Beck, Austin and other political observers agreed that to the extent Ryan can put together a Brown-style campaign, he has a chance of winning in November. But they were also clear that Brown is a singular figure in today’s politics.

Ryan has four months to see if his pitch to the “exhausted majority” can forge a similar coalition.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.



Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.