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Fact Check: Fact-checking J.D. Vance and Tim Ryan in Ohio Senate race

Keeping the Ohio U.S. Senate seat in the hands of a Republican is central to the party’s strategy to win back the Senate. Democrats see an opening for their candidate, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who portrays himself as unbeholden to party leadership.

Republicans have dominated recent statewide races in Ohio. Former President Donald Trump won the state in 2016 and went on to increase his vote-getting margin in 2020. Top election handicappers say the Senate contest between Ryan, a longtime congressman, and Republican J.D. Vance, a bestselling author, leans Republican.

Lauren Copeland, a political scientist at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, said the outcome could have important implications for Democrats in other states in the “Rust Belt,” the once-highly industrialized region of the country where manufacturing has declined.

“Ryan has worked hard to win the white working-class vote,” Copeland said. “If he does well on (Election Day), other Democrats may want to follow his lead.” 

David Niven, a political scientist at University of Cincinnati, said Ryan has “run as an old-school Democrat. Working family concerns. At home in a union hall. And proudly so.”

Trump endorsed Vance before his GOP primary win. 

“Ohio as a state is older than the nation, whiter than the nation, and less educated than the nation,” Niven said. “That is the sweet spot for Trump Republicans these days.” 

Here are some of our fact-checks in this pivotal race.

Tim Ryan: “J.D. Vance said nothing about” the attack on Paul Pelosi.

This is False.

Vance did not release a formal statement condemning the Oct. 28 violent assault as did some other Republicans, but he did speak about the incident. In response to a reporter’s question, he called the attack terrible, and said “we need to lower the temperature in this country.”

Ryan: Instead of fighting opioid addiction, a nonprofit founded by J.D. Vance paid his “top political adviser” and funded “political polling.”

We rated this claim Mostly True.

Vance’s nonprofit, which was founded partly to fight opioid abuse, paid political consultant Jai Chabria $63,425 in 2017 to be its executive director. Chabria was a key political adviser to Vance and remains on Vance’s 2022 Senate campaign. 

The nonprofit also spent $45,000 for a survey of the “social, cultural and general welfare needs of Ohio citizens.” We could not find evidence documenting the survey’s exact questions.

Ryan: “I voted with Trump on trade.”

This is Mostly True.

Ryan voted to support the United States-Mexico-Canada free trade act, known as USMCA, a Trump trade priority. But it broke with Ryan’s typical position on trade. Trump often spoke against free trade agreements. And before Trump took office, Ryan consistently voted against free trade bills.

Ryan backed Trump’s use of tariffs against China and Russia, but opposed them when Trump applied the tariffs to U.S. allies in Europe. He warned that without more-targeted tariffs, Americans would be worse off. Research later determined that American earnings and employment suffered under Trump’s trade war.

J.D. Vance: Ryan “wanted to decriminalize fentanyl.”

We rated this Pants on Fire! Ryan not only hasn’t advocated for this, he clearly stated the opposite.

Vance was referring to Ryan agreeing in 2019 to an American Civil Liberties Union pledge to reduce mass incarceration. But signing a pledge to reduce mass incarceration is not the equivalent of advocating the decriminalization of fentanyl.

In response to a question about his willingness to decriminalize all drug possession, Ryan wrote on the ACLU questionnaire, “No, I do not support the decriminalization at the federal level of all drug possession for personal use.” Ryan said marijuana is the only drug he would decriminalize. Additionally, Ryan has supported legislation that aims to reduce the flow of fentanyl.

Vance: Ryan said “I do love” Nancy Pelosi and votes with Joe Biden and Pelosi 100%.

This claim, made in a Vance campaign ad, is Half True.

Ryan’s voting record in the current Congress aligns with Biden’s agenda and Pelosi’s recent votes, though as House speaker she does not vote on every measure.

The more glaring issue with the ad is that it snips out Ryan’s explanation of why he thought Pelosi should no longer lead the Democratic Party. Vance’s claim does not account for Ryan’s notable decision to challenge Pelosi’s leadership after the 2016 election, leaving viewers without the full story. 

Vance: “Tim Ryan called police the new Jim Crow.”

This is Mostly False.

Ryan said in a 2019 town hall that he believes today’s criminal justice system is “racist,” and he compared it to Jim Crow laws — state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in parts of the nation in the period between Civil War until 1968.

Ryan’s remarks addressed criminal laws, prosecutions and sentencing. But he did not mention police specifically in relation to Jim Crow laws. Vance’s comment presented a specific pairing — the police and Jim Crow — that Ryan did not make. 

RELATED: Fact-checking J.D. Vance and Tim Ryan in Ohio Senate debate

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RELATED: J.D. Vance’s record on the Truth-O-Meter

RELATED: All our fact-checks about Ohio

Source: PolitiFact.