Both Senator-elect John Fetterman, D-Pa., and former Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, sought Senate seats during the 2022 midterms appealing to the working class.
Ryan lost in a close race with Senator-elect J.D. Vance, but both races showed a divergence of both paths. Pennsylvania is a battleground that usually falls toward Democrats, while Ohio has been dropped from that competitive list of states.
Democrats will have to make do with a highly unfavorable Senate map while narrowly holding control. In 2024, Democrats will defend Senate seats in red states, including Montana, West Virginia and Ohio.
With the great victory over Ohio, Republicans will prepare to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown, whose long-term credibility with blue-collar voters was essentially the template for Ryan’s run.
Sen. Brown said last week he planned to seek a fourth term in 2024.
“The state dynamics have changed,” Bob Paduchik, the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said before the state Chamber of Commerce. “The Ohio Republican Party is a working-class conservative party. Sherrod has portrayed himself as a working-class Democrat, and there just aren’t many of those left around in Ohio.”
Brown’s top political adviser, Justin Barasky, who also worked on Ryan’s campaign, acknowledged “the national Democratic Party brand has suffered significantly with working-class voters,” including prospective Black and Hispanic voters.
“Ohio is not going the way of Missouri and Iowa, that’s why we have a Democratic senator, and they don’t,” he said. “But we’re not Pennsylvania anymore, and we’re not Wisconsin, and we’re not Michigan.”
“Yes, Tim lost, and the governor’s race was a blowout, so it’s very simple to say, ‘Oh, man, Sherrod is in big trouble,’” he added. The result “leads you to believe Sherrod is in a relatively strong position,” he said, citing Ryan’s higher share of votes in counties that President Joe Biden once won in 2020.
Ohio previously voted twice for former President Barack Obama before swinging to former President Donald Trump, who appealed to cultural and economic issues of white voters without college degrees.
Ryan, a grandson of a steelworker, ran on an anti-China and pro-union platform, telling voters if they want a culture war, “I’m not your guy.”
Northeast Ohio, which Ryan represented in Congress for 20 years, was once a Democrat stronghold built upon organized labor and heavy industry. But this region moved more to the right than any part of Ohio. Mahoning County, which includes his district, gave Vance a larger share of the vote than what the county had for Trump in 2020; that was the first time in nearly 50 years a Republican presidential candidate won Mahoning County.
“Youngstown should be the heart and soul of the Democratic brand — it’s not,” said Irene Lin, a Democratic strategist in Ohio. “Can Sherrod survive? I’m not sure.”
Democratic strategists argue besides the demographics, Ryan had outperformed expectations this year, improving by two points on President Biden’s 2020 loss of Ohio. They also predicted Brown would run a more competitive race in 2024, citing defeats of leading state Republicans in Senate races of DeWine in 2006 and Mandel in 2012.
“The theory of our case was that he was a fraud, was pretending to be something he wasn’t,” said Chabria, Vance’s chief strategist.
“Sherrod Brown is ripe for the picking,” he added. “I think that there’s a huge opportunity.”
Ohio Republicans are exploring options like Frank LaRose, the newly re-elected secretary of state; Mark Kvamme, a venture capitalist; and Matt Dolan, a co-owner of the Cleveland Guardians MLB team.
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