Ohio Senate race poll: J.D. Vance, Tim Ryan in close race as concerns about economy boost GOP

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Republican J.D. Vance wins Ohio primary after Donald Trump endorsement

Trump’s pick for the Ohio GOP candidate, J.D. Vance, wins a spot in the November Senatorial election.

Cody Godwin, USA TODAY

Grab your popcorn, Ohio: The U.S. Senate race could get interesting. 

Republican J.D. Vance and Democrat Tim Ryan are neck and neck just weeks after winning their primary races, according to a USA TODAY Network Ohio/Suffolk University poll released Wednesday. Vance was the favorite with 41.6% of voters, but Ryan trailed closely behind at 39.4%.

The result was within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Ryan is trying to win over moderates as Vance recovers from a bruising GOP primary. Former President Donald Trump backed the author and venture capitalist in the final weeks of the race, a move that incensed some Republicans who were skeptical of Vance’s past comments critical of Trump.

But Vance is poised to gain ground in the coming months as frustration mounts over the economy and President Joe Biden’s job performance.

Ohio Senate race opinion: Ohio’s never seen a U.S. Senate nominee like J.D. Vance

“Here’s Ryan trying to emerge from the quicksand … and he’s getting drawn back into it because the problem of the economy is so ominous in Ohio,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center.

Tim Ryan winning over independents

Ohio’s race could be crucial to control of the U.S. Senate. There are 34 Senate seats up in 2022, providing both parties a chance to make gains in a Senate evenly split between 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Ohio’s seat is now held by retiring Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican.

The Senate race is undoubtedly grabbing the attention of Ohio voters: Roughly 71% said they were either extremely or very interested in it. 

Election 2022Inflation. Guns. Abortion. Trump. Here’s what mattered to voters in the May primaries

Support for Vance and Ryan largely fell along party lines, but independents such as Andrew Testa of North Ridgeville were more likely to support Ryan and hold a favorable view of him. Testa said he’s probably going to vote for Ryan over Vance, contending the congressman has always looked out for his constituents. 

“I like his proactive approach to commercials,” Testa said. “You know, hey, maybe we’ve not done everything right in the past. I understand that with trade agreements and things in the past. But he seems willing to make things right.”

Ryan also had a higher favorable rating than Vance – 39.8% versus 34.6% – but more voters were unfamiliar with the congressman. Democrat Rolita Noble of Toledo said she still needs to research Ryan, but she doesn’t believe Vance will fight for policies she supports such as abortion access and Medicare for All. 

Neither candidate supports Medicare for All

“J.D. Vance will not get my vote, nor my family’s vote either,” Noble said.

Economy, Joe Biden may help J.D. Vance

For some voters, Ryan has produced little more than empty promises. Todd Campbell of Bainbridge – a self-described “JFK Democrat” – is concerned that there aren’t enough workers to fill jobs in Ohio and doesn’t believe the state needs more industry as Ryan has advocated. 

Campbell said his wife is familiar with Vance, and he’s leaning toward the venture capitalist at this point in the race. He doesn’t approve of Vance trotting out Trump’s endorsement, though. 

“He knows where the lower middle class comes from and the poor class comes from because that’s how he was raised, so I kind of like that,” Campbell said. “As long as he remembers that, I guess.”

Although Wednesday’s poll showed Vance just barely ahead of Ryan, observers say the Republican has plenty of opportunities to widen the gap before November. Nearly 43% of voters said the economy and inflation would drive their vote, and those issues were even bigger concerns for Vance supporters.

Another problem for Ryan: 49.4% of voters said they want their vote in November to change the direction in which Biden has led the country, including 45% of those who are undecided in the Senate race.

“Just because the poll is close doesn’t mean the race is necessarily a tossup,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia. “I still like Vance’s chances. You can see the opportunities for him to grow within the poll based on Biden’s approval.”

More polls results coming

  • Who is winning the Ohio governor’s race? 
  • How do Ohioans feel about the economy and their future?
  • Where do Ohioans stand on abortion, guns and transgender issues? 

Look for these results in the coming days. 

About this poll

The Suffolk University Political Research Center surveyed 500 likely Ohio midterm voters from May 22-24 via cell and landline phones to get responses to the poll questions. Under ideal circumstances, the poll results should accurately reflect the true opinion of likely Ohio voters, within plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, 95 of every 100 times that the poll is conducted by the Boston-based university’s center. Potential sources of error in polls include sampling as well as the wording and order of questions.

Akron Beacon Journal reporter Doug Livingston, USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau reporter Abby Bammerlin, and USA TODAY contributed.

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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