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How abortion and immigration are shaping Ohio’s U.S. Senate race

Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance, in a lighter moment at the first of two planned debates — this one at the studios of Fox 8 News in Cleveland.
Fox 8 Cleveland

The candidates in Ohio’s high-profile U.S. Senate race have been hammering away at each other in campaign ads and debates. While the economy has been the top issue discussed among voters, other wedge issues have stirred the pot in this heated race.

In a continuing series previewing the 2022 Ohio Elections from the Statehouse News Bureau, we break down how issues like abortion and immigration play key roles as Tim Ryan and J.D. Vance try to reach their base.

As Vance and Ryan met with supporters around Ohio, it became clear which issues were top of mind for the more conservative and liberal voters on the campaign trail.

As Ryan sat in an intimate town hall in Dayton, a group of Black voters expressed how important it is for the Democratic congressman to be “aggressive” on abortion.

Ryan, who was against abortion until about seven years ago, said he will fight to codify abortion rights previously granted through Roe v. Wade, which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in June. He also notes that Republicans in the U.S. Senate are trying to pass a 15-week, national abortion ban.

“Now, these are extreme positions. And I think people have to know who they’re voting for on circumstances like this, where you have a guy who’s willing to codify Roe v. Wade which has been the law of the land for 50 years,” said Ryan. “This has injected nothing but chaos in the society.”

During their debate in Cleveland, Vance said he recalled seeing young, poor women in his hometown having abortions because, as he said, they didn’t think they had options.

He supports Republican Senator Lindsay Graham’s 15-week abortion ban proposal.

“My view on this is, generally speaking, Ohio is going to want to have different abortion laws in California than Texas, and I think Ohio should have that right. But some minimum national standard is totally fine with me,” Vance said.

Though Ryan said he supports codifying Roe, which generally allowed abortions until a fetus is viable, usually around 24 to 28 weeks.

Vance said it’s Ryan who has the extreme views.

“He voted for a piece of legislation that would have overturned Roe and required abortion on demand at 40 weeks for fully elective reasons,” Vance said.

Back at the Dayton town hall, Ryan said “chaos” has broken out because of strict abortion bans in Ohio and elsewhere that have led to pregnant women not able to get the care they need, and brought out stories like the 10-year-old Columbus rape victim who had to go to Indiana for an abortion. He said it’s an issue that is even energizing more men around the state.

“Dads with young, you know, with daughters, like – no way. No way is no way is J.D. Vance or Ted Cruz or these crackpots going to be in the doctor's office with my daughter if she has a problem,” Ryan said.

Just as Ryan has focused on abortion with the liberal base, Vance has emphasized the need for stronger immigration policies as he meets with conservative supporters around Ohio.

Such as this rally in Avon, west of Cleveland, where Vance told a crowd of Republicans that the U.S. is struggling with – what he calls – an “open border.”

“Joe Biden, Tim Ryan have thrown open the American southern border. The people on the ground know it. The evidence about seizures actually just tells us more people are coming across in the first place,” Vance said.

U.S. authorities made a record two million immigration arrests on the southern border in the last year.

But Ryan seems to agree with Vance on this issue.

“It's not secure. We have a lot of work to do. I'm not here to just get in a fight or just tow the Democratic Party line. I'm here to speak the truth. We do have more work to do, which is why I have a resolution to designate fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction," Ryan said.

Ryan listed other policies he’s supported in Congress, such as increased funding for border patrol.

But Vance presses that the crisis at the southern border is leading to increased violence and drug use in America.

“He talks about wanting to be bipartisan and get things done. Well, Tim, you've been in Congress for 20 years, and the border problem has got worse and worse and worse,” Vance said.

Ryan said that the U.S. also needs to reform its immigration process for the people who are already in America.

“If they're here, pay a fine, pay back taxes, pass a background check and come into the country,” Ryan said.

Vance also said he’s for a system that allows immigrants to the U.S. if they provide something “meaningful” to the country, which he described as skills or knowing English. He said he supports Republican Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton’s RAISE Act.

The campaign rhetoric from Ryan and Vance recently has skewed more towards messages that could connect with moderates at a time when many independent voters have been polling undecided. However, supporters from each candidates’ base have stressed the need to still get out the vote among their groups.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.