Inside the GOP Freakout on JD Vance’s Senate Campaign

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When JD Vance took the stage at a conservative conference last week, it should have prompted Republicans to sigh with relief in hopes of seeing the GOP U.S. Senate nominee from Ohio hit the campaign trail harder. .

There was just one problem: The stop Vance took was in Israel, 6,000 miles from Ohio.

Vance’s spectacle gushing about Israel’s high birthrates in Tel Aviv — before a friendly audience of many conservatives but almost certainly no Ohio voters — seemed to distill for some Republicans all that’s wrong with it. his campaign right now.

Back in Buckeye State, many are still waiting for Vance to show up, as the most critical phase of the campaign season approaches.

Bill Cunningham, a fixture on conservative radio airwaves in Cincinnati for decades, told The Daily Beast that voters, party activists and even officials across the state tell him Vance is calling him. Vance would be absent from most county fairs. , party meetings and campaign stops where this state’s candidates are supposed to be.

“Republican stalwarts tell me,” Cunningham said, “they can’t find JD Vance with a search warrant.”

Others say it’s not just that they don’t see Vance — the anti-Trump literary celebrity turned MAGA instigator — pounding the pavement in Ohio. Privately, some don’t even get calls from him, or his campaign, to discuss how they can help.

This group includes campaign donors that Vance literally cannot afford to lose. The candidate’s fundraising has been anemic, and because he’s in debt from the murderous primary, Vance is in the unenviable position of asking donors to pay off those debts.

A GOP source in state politics said Vance’s lack of follow-up with some major state donors was disappointing. “When the fundraising numbers came out, it’s total panic now,” they said.

“It’s code red,” said Ron Verb, a longtime Youngstown radio host who sounded the alarm about Vance on his show. “I think he’s running the worst campaign you can run.”

Meanwhile, Republicans reluctantly admit that Democratic nominee Rep. Tim Ryan may be running the best possible campaign from a Democrat in this increasingly conservative state.

Ryan has so far raised $12 million for his campaign. And he’s using that war chest to blanket the airwaves in Ohio with ads touting his good faith as a blue-collar worker, amplifying his stated desire to break with his fellow Democrats on key issues, like inflation and crime. . (Notably, Ryan has been a reliable Democratic vote during his two decades in Congress.)

With Vance largely absent from the airwaves and the campaign trail, Republicans fear Ryan will successfully define himself before Vance does – and time is running out for the Republican to right the ship.

“Republicans are like, ‘Are you crazy?’ It’s not a fucking book tour, man.”

A GOP source in state politics said it’s a “widespread trend” that Republican officials are hearing in their networks about Ryan’s cross-call. “People who are Republicans say, ‘That guy Tim Ryan, he’s fine, I like the way he sounds,'” the GOP source said.

That’s why Vance’s mid-campaign adventure in Israel has particularly upset some Republicans. “Tim Ryan is talking about kitchen table issues, and JD Vance is out there to fuck CPAC in Israel,” said a seasoned strategist with deep ties to the state. “Republicans are like, ‘Are you crazy?’ It’s not a fucking book tour, man.

Cunningham, the Cincinnati radio host, said he spoke with Vance regularly. He shared with The Daily Beast his advice to the candidate: “I said to JD, ‘This race is yours to lose, and at this point you lose it.’ Your staff won’t tell you, but I just did.

U.S. Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH), a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio, greets supporters at a rally in support of Project Bartlett Maritime, a proposal to build an undersea service facility for the US Navy.

Drew Angerer/Getty

In response to questions from The Daily Beast, Vance campaign spokesperson Taylor Van Kirk said Vance had just completed an eight-stop statewide tour focused on law enforcement and issues. of crime.

Van Kirk also noted that Vance just received an endorsement from the NFIB, the small business advocacy group, calling the nominee a “steadfast small business champion,” as opposed to Ryan, whom the Republican blames for inflation and anti-business policies.

Republicans say they would like to see more of this kind of rhetoric from Vance himself, less tweet like the one he sent on Friday, decrying the condemnation of Trump ally Steve Bannon.

Holding the seat vacated by incumbent GOP Senator Rob Portman should be one of the easiest things for Republicans to do in a midterm election year that promises to be brutal for Democrats. Republicans are going all-in to flip or hold seats in six states President Joe Biden won in 2020; Ohio, which Trump won easily in 2016 and 2020, was not meant to be a priority.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Ryan’s campaign spokesman Jordan Fuja called Vance’s campaign effort an “insult to the people of this state.”

“Instead of meeting face to face with the people he claims to represent, JD Vance has spent most of the last month hiding at home or trying to get as far away from Ohio as possible,” said Fujia. .

A lackluster Vance campaign, of course, could still result in a comfortable victory in November. Many Republicans simply don’t see a scenario in which Vance loses a state where Biden’s approval rating is 23 points underwater, and some key party figures so far profess no concerns about the situation. organization of the Vance campaign.

Alex Triantafilou, Hamilton County GOP chairman in Cincinnati and suburbs, told The Daily Beast on Thursday that he had just completed a Zoom call with Vance campaign officials and was encouraged by the briefing on their operation. in the field.

Southwestern Ohio is where Vance’s support may run deepest — his hometown of Middletown is 40 miles north of Cincinnati — and Triantafilou said the candidate and his organization did that. what they had to do in the area.

“I don’t think anyone takes it for granted,” Triantafilou said. Although he added, “I don’t see Ohio offering Joe Biden another vote. I just don’t see that happening.

At the very least, however, Ohio is shaping up to be a tougher fight for Republicans than they may have anticipated. It threatens to siphon off much-needed GOP dollars to flip seats in places like Arizona and Georgia — the last thing National Republicans need as they try to break the 50-50 divide in the Senate and to regain a majority in the chamber.

With less than three months to go before early voting begins in the race, the exact scenario that worries some Vance-skeptical Republicans could play out.

For much of the nasty and expensive primary, Vance was unable to take advantage of — or even sound out — a group of rivals that included a former U.S. Senate candidate, two wealthy self-funded businessmen and former state president. GOP.

That changed when Vance landed former President Donald Trump’s coveted endorsement, which likely gave him the boost he needed. He eventually won the nomination with just over 32% of the primary vote.

JD Vance speaks to supporters of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally to benefit Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz in Greensburg, Pennsylvania in May.

Jeff Swensen/Getty

But Trump’s nudge may have masked fundamental weaknesses in Vance’s operation. He was never a good fundraiser. Instead, an outside group largely funded by Vance’s mentor, tech billionaire Peter Thiel, spent millions in the primary to promote Vance and conduct voter education campaigns.

However, Vance cannot tap any of that money to directly fund his campaign operation. His most pressing problem now is that he’s not attracting enough donors: Vance’s latest federal campaign finance filing shows his campaign committee went bankrupt after winning the primary. Additionally, the campaign is prioritizing donations to pay off Vance’s $700,000 in personal loans.

The campaign ended in June with $250,000 under water, with more debt than cash, and its joint fundraising committees are struggling to keep up. This has raised concerns and criticism that Vance’s fundraising struggles may reflect a lack of grassroots support and enthusiasm among Republican and independent voters in the state.

“Ohio should be off the table – early September – and Republicans should be on the offensive elsewhere,” the veteran strategist said. “It’s similar to the primary: Vance will need a bailout again, and that will probably have to come from Thiel.”

Billionaire Peter Thiel backed Vance’s campaign.

Marco Bello/Getty

“It’s such a shame that the money needs to go to Ohio,” the strategist continued. “Any other candidate who emerged from the primary would have had a good chance to oust Tim Ryan by Labor Day.”

Another longtime Republican strategist in the state told The Daily Beast that the campaign’s passive stance in the primaries won’t fly in the general election.

“It feels like a mix of not knowing what they’re doing – they didn’t do much primary campaigning and were functionally dead before Trump’s endorsement and Thiel’s money bailed them out at the last minute – and JD doesn’t seem to want to do much, anyway. I think they also just read the environment and try to play ‘preemptive defense’ – keeping JD’s profile low, minimizing gaffes “said the strategist.

Still, there are signs that Operation Vance is trying to make up for lost time. Verb, the radio host in Youngstown, said he would host Vance on his show next week. This is an opportunity for the Republican nominee to woo Ryan’s own constituents, who sent him to Congress for two decades but are much more conservative now than they were before.

“I told him you need to get on this program more often because this is Tim Ryan’s home area, and you suck here,” Verb said. “Maybe that’s why he’s coming next week.”

Of course, the Republicans who criticize Vance the most don’t want to see him lose. On the contrary: They want to see him take that seat and defeat Ryan, whose attempt to persuade Trump voters is annoying and infuriating to many GOP loyalists.

“Tim Ryan is an impostor and an impostor,” Verb said. “With all that said, he’s running one of the most effective campaigns I’ve seen.”

Vance, Verb continued, “better shake your ass, figure out why he’s not raising more money, why the Republican Party isn’t behind him raising money and trying to counter Tim Ryan’s ad campaign. “

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