J.D. Vance answering questions on stage at a FOX townhall in Columbus. (photo by Nick Evans)
In a Fox News townhall one week from election day, Ohio’s U.S. Senate candidates tackled questions from the audience and moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum about energy, the border, abortion, the Paul Pelosi attack, and more.
The event takes the place of the third debate both campaigns have said they wanted but couldn’t ever agree to schedule. The nominees staked out a bit of new ground and clarified some existing positions. But in general, the forum offered a chance for Republican J.D. Vance and Democrat Tim Ryan to make one final broad appeal to voters.
The townhall format gave each candidate roughly equal time on stage and Ryan got the first crack. The first question came from a Deerfield woman in the audience named Beverley. She pressed Ryan asking him to “look me in the face” and explain how clean energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce inflation.
In a blunt show of honesty, he told her he couldn’t.
Ryan argued as he has previously, for addressing short term inflation through a tax cut. But he went on to defend the broader legislation, too. He argued those subsidies are helping encourage private investment in vehicle, battery and solar manufacturing around the state.
“I want Ohio to be the manufacturing powerhouse of the world,” Ryan argued. “If it’s not us, it’s China. So we have to go all in on these products of the future. But where I think I’m different as a Democrat, I think we go all in on natural gas.”
Most notably, though, Ryan broke with the state party and offered his support for Issue 1. The measure demands judges consider public safety when setting the dollar amount for bail. They can already consider public safety for other conditions, but the state supreme court earlier this year ruled it’s unconstitutional to jack up cash bail in an effort to keep defendants in jail. State law already allows prosecutors to argue for holding dangerous defendants without the opportunity for bail.
Familiar rhetoric from Ryan on avoiding “stupid fights” and restoring Roe v. Wade got strong responses. Sparring with the moderators on the latter, Ryan refused to place a hard cut off on performing the procedure when a mother’s life is in danger. Ignoring the state’s six-week abortion ban currently on hold, Martha MacCallum pressed him on why the 22 weeks Ohio women currently have isn’t enough. (Ohio’s six-week abortion ban is temporarily on hold by a Hamilton County judge while a lawsuit against it proceeds.)
“If there’s a medical problem, you don’t know that until the end,” Ryan argued back. “And here, the point is, this is America. This is a country built on freedom, right? And this is the largest governmental overreach into the private lives of individual citizens in the history of our lifetime.”
“I thought my friends on the other side were, like, against big government, against invasion into the private lives of people,” he added.
In addition to his lines on bipartisanship and abortion, Ryan got a good response to the idea of legalizing marijuana. He didn’t get as far with his argument that investing in border security is necessary, but a wall isn’t always practical and is often too easily circumvented.
Ryan’s biggest negative reaction came to questions about the Jan. 6 insurrection. He acknowledged that his past comments about needing to “confront” and “kill” the MAGA movement were poorly phrased.
“Kill the movement,” Ryan clarified to Baier. “And maybe that wasn’t a great choice of words. Absolutely confront and absolutely stop the extremist movement happening.”
But a moment later Ryan faced a chorus of jeers when he described 140 Capitol Police officers getting injured during the insurrection and one of them getting killed.
“We’ve all seen the tape,” Ryan said.
Vance took the stage next. And from the boisterous applause as he walked out to the lighter cross examination from the moderators, it’s pretty safe to say he got the friendlier draw.
To blunt Ryan’s attacks that Vance is an “extremist,” he opened with a couple of olive branches. He offered that Democrats were right to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.
“We absolutely have to work together,” Vance said of governing with a Democratic president. “That’s one of the things Tim talks a lot about, working together. But when Republicans win the majority as I think we do, we have to act like we have the majority, we have to do things not just talk about doing things.”
Vance argued “opening the pipelines and opening up our energy industry” would bring prices down “pretty immediately.” Energy experts meanwhile contend increasing domestic production would have a limited impact when the price of commodities like oil are determined by a global market.
In terms of immigration, a top issue for Vance, he got a strong response from saying he’d back Arkansas Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s RAISE Act. He explained that measure would prioritize immigrants based on skills rather than familial connections.
“I think the immigration policy in the United States should be about what skills and what attributes do you bring to the table,” he said.
“You let people into your country based on merit, not on who they know,” he added.
Vance once again expressed confidence in the integrity of upcoming election and even said he’d support “the guy who wins” even though they’ll disagree on big issues.
He explicitly condemned the attack of Nancy Pelosi’s husband as “disgusting” after Ryan suggested he’d been silent on it. Vance pushed back that he’d condemned it from the outset and that “the effort to turn this into a political issue is actually a real problem here.” In the next breath he went on to argue the attacker is an illegal alien.
“My view very simply is that we need to deport violent illegal aliens, ok?” he said.
He argued the attack — by a man claiming Nancy Pelosi is the “leader of the pack of lies told by the Democratic Party”— is not reflective of Republicans. It’s reflective of people living in the country illegally.
Asked directly whether he ban abortion in Ohio and nationally, Vance said, “Look, I’m pro-life, I am pro-life.”
He went to argue 90% of abortion policy should be set at the state level. But he explained his support for a “minimum national standard” that would ensure we’re not “aborting babies who can feel pain who are fully formed.”
Vance has expressed support for South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham’s 15 week federal abortion ban. Describing the provision as a minimum standard though is misleading. It would limit any state from allowing abortion after 15 weeks, but states would be allowed to set more stringent restrictions.
Vance’s claims that a fetus is “fully formed” or can “feel pain” are similarly dubious. Fetal viability is generally considered to be about 23 or 24 weeks. An American Medical Association policy brief contends “the preponderance of evidence” shows even a 20-week fetus is unable to feel pain, and cites a study putting that benchmark closer to 29 or 30 weeks.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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