Tim Ryan Is Throwing Out the Democratic Playbook in Ohio

With Joe Biden’s approval ratings nearing Trumpian lows, Representative Tim Ryan, a Democratic Senate candidate running in Ohio, has eschewed appearing alongside his party’s president, while instead leaning on Fox News hosts for support and assuring voters that he is a fellow traveler of the “America First” movement when it comes to trade.

In his latest TV ad, which is titled “Fox News Friends” and, according to NBC News, is set to initially air exclusively on Fox News, the Ryan campaign touts compliments that he has received from the likes of Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo, and Bret Baier. “Watch what happened when Congressman Tim Ryan tried to remind his fellow Democrats that most Americans don’t actually support open borders,” says Carlson, a supporter of white nationalist conspiracy theories, in a clip shown alongside a graphic that reads “Tim Ryan ‘Against Open Borders.’”

In another segment chosen for the spot, Bartiromo can be seen calling Ryan “a jobs creator” who is “tough on China.” The ad closes with an interview between Bartiromo and Ryan, in which the Fox Business host tells her guest, “You’re very moderate. You’re hanging out in the middle like most of us are.” (Of course, Bartiromo’s definition of the “middle” may differ from most, as her remarks on the Capitol riot include calling it a “peaceful protest” and theorizing that the violence was instigated by Democrats disguised as Donald Trump supporters.)

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Whether Democrats should appear on Fox News has been an ongoing debate, with some candidates previously shunning the conservative network and others seeing an opportunity to make their case to the largest cable news audience. Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog group, said that while he understands why Ryan is attempting to reach “a constituency that may be a little bit uneasy about you,” choosing to air the ad on Fox News is “self-destructive,” as Ryan’s Republican opponent, J.D. Vance, is the 11th-most-frequent guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight since launching his Senate campaign last year, according to Media Matters. “You’re giving ad money to a network whose top host has endorsed J.D. Vance and given him an enormous amount of airtime,” Carusone told Vanity Fair. He went on to say that cozying up to Fox News and its hosts “actually perpetuates the idea that Democrats are weak compared to Republicans, who would never run an ad saying, ‘Hey, look! A couple of writers at The New York Times like me!’”

In a statement to Vanity Fair, Ryan’s campaign spokesperson Izzi Levy said, “Tim is running to represent all Ohioans, and he’s working to earn the support of all Ohioans, and that means going everywhere and talking to everyone—a clear contrast with J.D. Vance, who says he feels ‘out of place’ in Ohio and has spent the 10 weeks since his primary hiding from Ohio voters.” 

While running as a Blue Dog–style Democrat who gets along with Fox News hosts may seem like an antiquated strategy in 2022, Ryan, a onetime presidential candidate, has taken painstaking steps to portray himself as a political maverick disconnected from the economic crises currently plaguing the ruling party. He has frequently condemned trade deals signed by Democratic presidents, which he blames for allowing China to steal manufacturing jobs from the Rust Belt, and has voiced support for Trump’s “America First” economic policies in two ads. “When Obama’s trade deal threatened jobs here, I voted against it. And I voted with Trump on trade,” Ryan says in one of the ads. “I don’t answer to any political party.” In other campaign ads, the 10-term Democratic lawmaker stressed the need to pass “a real tax cut for workers” and expressed his steadfast support for police.