Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan excoriated JD Vance during the pair’s Ohio Senate debate on Monday, over the “fake nonprofit” that Vance started to ostensibly combat opioid addiction as well as the Republican’s courting of former President Donald Trump’s support.
Ryan and Vance are locked in an unexpectedly tight race in Ohio, one of several that could determine control of the U.S. Senate next year. Though Trump comfortably won Ohio two years ago, most polls within the past month have found Ryan and Vance effectively deadlocked.
Ryan went on the offensive over Our Ohio Renewal, the nonprofit Vance founded in November 2016 to ostensibly fight opioid addiction in the state.
“I didn’t start a fake nonprofit pretending I was gonna help people with addiction, like JD Vance did. Literally started a nonprofit and didn’t spend one nickel on anybody,” Ryan said. “In fact, he brought in somebody from Purdue Pharma to be the spokesperson for the nonprofit. The same drug company that had all the pill mills going, got everybody addicted.”
“All you did with it was launch your political career,” Ryan said. “I’m not going to take a backseat to you on fentanyl or drugs or anything else.”
Ryan also referred to a rally last month where Trump—whom Vance once referred to as potentially becoming “America’s Hitler” but later endorsed him during a contentious Republican primary—said Vance was “kissing my ass.”
“I’m for Ohio, I don’t kiss anyone’s ass like him,” Ryan said of Vance during the debate. “Ohio needs an ass-kicker, not an ass-kisser.”
Vance, a Yale Law School graduate who worked in venture capital in Silicon Valley and also wrote a New York Times bestselling memoir that was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie directed by Ron Howard, is running a far-right populist anti-elitism campaign. Ryan, a 10-term congressman and one-time presidential candidate, is running as a moderate Democrat.
Vance said during the debate that Ryan was to blame for the rape of a 10-year-old abortion patient, whose story conservative media and politicians had attempted to cast doubt on before the alleged rapist, 27-year-old Gerson Fuentes, was arrested. Fuentes is undocumented, the New York Times reported in July.
“You voted so many times against the border wall funding, so many times for amnesty, Tim,” Vance said during the debate. “If you had done your job, she would have never been raped in the first place.”
Vance sought to position himself as a reasonable moderate on abortion during the debate, but he once compared abortion to slavery in terms of its “morally distorting effect” on America and at another point suggested that people should stay in “violent” marriages rather than “shift[ing] spouses like they change their underwear.” Vance also said in July, when he was asked about exceptional abortions for victims of rape and incest, “two wrong don’t make a right.”
Ryan was initially anti-choice himself but publicly switched his position on the issue in 2015. During the debate, Vance backed Sen. Lindsay Graham’s national abortion ban bill. “Some minimum national standard is totally fine with me,” Vance said.
“We’re talking about five-month-old babies, fully formed babies who can feel pain,” Vance said, referring to fetuses at 20 weeks.
Ryan said he backs Roe v. Wade, the longstanding ruling overturned by the conservative Supreme Court in June. He also voted for the Women’s Health Protection Act, which was passed by the House earlier this year but stalled in the Senate.
“I had some very personal conversations with women in Ohio who had gone through tragedies, who needed to have abortions for a variety of different reasons,” Ryan said Monday. “And I just came to realize through the course of these conversations, that the government has no place in this matter, that this needs to be left to the woman.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that JD Vance graduated from Harvard Law School. He graduated from Yale Law School.
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