Ohio Senate Republican nominee J.D. Vance reported more than $2.3 million in second quarter fundraising for this year, far less than the $9.1 million his Democratic opponent, Rep. Tim Ryan, announced last week.
A press release from Vance’s campaign on Thursday noted that the $2.3 million figure is the total contributions he received from JD Vance for Senate Inc., Ohioans for JD and Vance Victory.
“A major part of Vance’s campaign includes speaking directly with voters and local groups across the state and building an unmatched coalition of supporters at the grassroots level. Vance’s strong numbers indicate his solutions-focused message continues to resonate with Ohioans,” the press release said.
But Ryan’s early money edge – and Vance’s ongoing efforts to retire a cumulative $1 million in campaign debt, with $700,000 of that covering a personal loan he made to seed his run – was a cause of concern for several Ohio Republicans who were interviewed for this story.
Ryan also built that cash lead while running $6 million in campaign ads and maintaining a busy slate of public appearances, compared to almost no advertising from Vance, who’s largely kept a low public profile.
“I think legitimately he’s got to crank up his fundraising, and a lot of that’s got to be national,” said Terry Casey, a Columbus-based Republican strategist. “But clearly, they’re still digging out and recovering from the primary, because it was so nasty, twisted and dirty.”
“It’s certainly got to be a wake-up call to the J.D. Vance campaign, because Tim Ryan is running circles around him right now,” said an Ohio Republican strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s early enough that Vance can be fine, but he’s got to be moving, and he’s got to start working. That’s all there is to it.”
None of the Republicans who spoke with cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer thought Vance was in serious danger of losing the race. Ohio increasingly has become a GOP-leaning state, and the national political climate this year, given high inflation and gas prices, is widely expected to favor Republicans.
But some feared Vance’s relatively weak fundraising, plus a variety of preliminary polls that suggest a tight race, could give an opening to Ryan to entice outside Democratic donors that so far have remained on the sidelines. Nationally, while trying to preserve their 50-50 split in the Senate – with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote – Democrats have focused on other states, either prioritizing protecting incumbents or reaching to win seats in states deemed to be more competitive.
“I think the contrast might have people who are saying, ‘We’ll just focus on Pennsylvania and Nevada’ and all of a sudden have them maybe taking a closer look at Ohio,” said David Pepper, a former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
In the past, Ohio’s Senate elections have been flush with outside money. For instance, outside groups spent $47.5 million in the 2016 campaign for Portman’s successful re-election bid, while they spent $5 million in 2018, when Sen. Sherrod Brown won re-election, according to OpenSecrets.org.