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Analysis: National Democratic party thumbs its nose at Tim Ryan. Ryan thumbs back

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, delivers his speech at the Tri-County Labor Council Community Awards Dinner in Fairlawn, Ohio Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.
Phil Long
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, delivers his speech at the Tri-County Labor Council Community Awards Dinner in Fairlawn, Ohio Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.

Well, fellow Ohioans, it turns out you should have listened to your parents and finished that four-year college degree.

If enough of you had, the leaders of the Senate Majority PAC, the Democrats' main outside spending fund, would think your vote was worth having and they would be in the Buckeye State with both feet, spending seven-figure piles of cash to convince you that Tim Ryan should be your next United States Senator.

But you didn't and they won't.

And so Tim Ryan, locked in what appears to be a dead-even race with Republican J.D. Vance, is on his own with no help — zero — from the Democratic party or its many deep-pocket allies.

And, no, Ryan, the congressman from Ohio's Mahoning Valley, is not at all happy about it.

"There are strategist types in the highest level of the party saying there are not enough college graduates in Ohio to invest in my campaign," Ryan told me in an interview last week. "I am where the rank and file of this party is in Ohio; I'm with the working people who may not happen to have a four-year college degree.

"What a slap in the face that is to the working people of Ohio."

In the meantime, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, through the Senate Leadership Fund, has already dumped $30 million into Ohio for ads attacking Ryan and pumping up Vance — a GOP Senate candidate who has shown very little skill at raising money on his own.

The snub is getting under the skin of many of Ryan's most loyal Ohio supporters.

Christopher Gibbs, a Shelby County farmer who switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party a few years ago, took to Twitter to express his frustration.

"I joined this party because I hoped to be able to lend a hand in rebuilding credibility in rural areas from the ground up," Gibbs wrote. "On second thought, it looks like we better take aim at the topline elite first."

This is happening in a race that has the potential to determine control of a U.S. Senate now divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with only the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris giving the Democrats a bare majority.

What the party does not understand, Ryan said, is that his campaign has been able to keep pace with Vance and his GOP allies because the Ryan campaign has 350,000 "low-dollar" contributors kicking into the campaign fund.

"Those are working Ohioans who want their voices heard," Ryan said. "The national party is creating an environment where those folks are not going to feel welcome."

Republicans are crowing over Ryan's campaign being ignored by his own party.

"Even Democrats can tell his brazen pandering and abysmal record aren’t a worthwhile investment," said Matt Fisher, Ohio press secretary for the Republican National Committee.

Ryan was on his way to Mansfield when I had my phone interview with him on Friday; he was going there to meet with mostly union workers in an outdoor rally there.

The workers laughed when Ryan told them that a top Democratic strategist said in a Washington Post story that Ohio doesn't have enough college educated voters to bother with. Better to spend the money in Senate contests in places like North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

"I will not let the Democratic Party turn into a party where you have to have to go get a college degree as a passport to get into the party," Ryan told his Mansfield supporters. "That's bullsh*it. And I'm not going to let that happen."

It's a good campaign line for Ryan, but, of course, Ohio's relatively low rate of people with a college degree (28.9%, according to the most recent Census data; where the national average of Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher is 37.9%) is not the only factor the party takes into consideration. There is the racial make-up of the state, the urban/rural split and income level, among others.

David Niven, political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, said he believes Ryan is wasting his breath complaining about the Democratic Party snub.

"Ohio is whiter than the nation, older than the nation, and less educated than the nation," Niven said. "That is simply a difficult demographic combination for Democrats.

"Tim Ryan can rail against the party all he wants," Niven said. "The party doesn't have feelings. It has data. The party is looking for a return on their money to try to flip races from losses to wins. And they are completely cold-hearted about the matter."

On the other hand, Niven said, "running against the party is a nice rallying cry for Tim Ryan."

That point has not been lost on Ryan. He may have been born at night, but not last night.

"I actually like this in some ways," Ryan said of the fact that the national party won't invest in his campaign. "It just shows what I have said all along — that I will be an independent operator. I'm not beholden to either party.

"The other guy has been bought and paid for. I am a free agent on behalf of the people of Ohio. Nothing wrong with that."
Copyright 2022 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.