COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The candidates for Ohio’s open U.S. Senate seat took to the stage – at different times – to answer questions for the last time Tuesday night, one week before they face off in the Nov. 8 election.
In a town hall hosted by Fox News at The Fives, an event center northwest of Downtown, Democratic candidate U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican candidate J.D. Vance fielded questions from a live audience – and at times, the moderators – about inflation, immigration, abortion, and their commitment to Ohioans. Ryan spent the first half of the town hall seated next to moderators and Fox anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, with Vance in the hot seat for the second half.
Here are three key takeaways from Tuesday’s town hall.
Economy weighs heavily on Ohioans’ minds
Audience members started Ryan and Vance’s stage time by asking about inflation and the economy, with Ryan being pushed on the Inflation Reduction Act he voted for and Vance being asked about prescription drug prices.
Ryan said he supports a two-pronged solution to addressing inflation — providing tax cuts in the short term, and in the long term building out Ohio’s natural gas sector to compete globally in the energy market. He said he wants to add jobs to Ohio by embracing electric vehicle manufacturing, building out the solar panel industry, and increasing commercial exports.
“I want Ohio to be the manufacturing powerhouse of the world,” Ryan said. “If not us, it’s China.”
The moderators punctuated Ryan’s answers by asking the audience to raise their hands if they thought inflation was the most important issue in the election. Nearly every person raised their hand.
Vance blamed the country’s inflation on Democrats – including Ryan – and said that in order to stop inflation, the government needs to “stop the borrowing and spending” and reinvest in Ohio’s energy sector. Otherwise critical of the Inflation Reduction Act, Vance conceded that the “one good thing” about the bill is that it enabled Medicare to negotiate some prescription drug prices with insurance companies.
Both candidates agreed that no policy changes can occur without bipartisanship.
For both candidates, opioid crisis and border security linked
Ryan and Vance reiterated their previous assertions about the opioid crisis and immigration – both viewing a tighter U.S.-Mexico border as the key to reducing drug overdoses in Ohio.
As he said in the first debate, hosted by NBC4’s sister station in Cleveland on Oct. 10, Ryan told the audience Tuesday that part of his plan to address the opioid crisis is to declare fentanyl a “weapon of mass destruction.” He asserted his belief in increasing border security through more border patrol agents and building a physical barrier “in certain places” along the southern border.
In responses to a pair of questions, Vance linked the country’s labor shortage to fentanyl, saying that cracking down on illegal immigration – which he has repeatedly blamed for the spread of the powerful opioid – will reduce the number of overdose deaths. He also suggested declaring drug cartels as terrorist organizations and completing a wall along the southern U.S. border.
“People are dying, it takes people out of the workforce and makes them unable to work in good jobs,” Vance said about fentanyl.
Moderators used their discretion in shifting topics, asking follow-up questions
Baier and MacCallum often followed Ryan’s answers to audience questions with questions of their own – asking the congressman to clarify his stances on Ohio’s abortion law, the release of nonviolent offenders from prison, and his party’s views on natural gas.
Ryan modified his stance on nonviolent offenders, shifting from earlier calls to release all nonviolent offenders from prison to releasing those convicted of marijuana-related charges. He reiterated his commitment to codifying Roe v. Wade, which limited the constitutional protection of abortion to the first two trimesters of pregnancy but for medical emergencies.
“This is the largest governmental overreach into the private lives of citizens during our lifetime,” Ryan said of state abortion bans.
Vance, on the other hand, received more audience questions during his allotted time, facing pushback from the moderators primarily on whether he viewed the 2020 election as “stolen.”
The political newcomer commended Ohio’s elections as being among the most integrous and secure in the country. He said although he fully expects to win the election, he will accept the results no matter the winner.
Vance said the biggest threat to U.S. democracy is “big technology companies in bed with the communist Chinese” that censor election information on social media favoring one party over the other.
“I don’t want these companies interfering in our elections, and I think that happened in 2020,” Vance said.