Ohio and Columbus are at critical junctures economically, socially and culturally.
Who we elect on Nov. 8 to send to Washington as the state's first new U.S. senator in more than a decade will likely matter for generations to come.
Despite the muck that has been lobbed this election season, it is crystal clear to our board who between Congressman Tim Ryan and author and investor J.D. Vance is best suited to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
Dispatch Editorial Board endorsement:Ohio needs a governor willing to lead not cave
With the U.S. Senate split 50-50 and few seats in play, Ohioans — many still feeling the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic — will help decide the Senate's balance of power.
One thing is for sure, pocketbook issues will and should influence those decisions.
It's the economy
Culture wars may dominate most of the news out of the Ohio Statehouse, but Ohioans are far more concerned about putting food on the table and dealing with high prices than what bathroom a transgender child is allowed to use or whether or not a sixth grader can read Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eyes."
Nearly a third of likely Ohio voters are primarily concerned about inflation and its effect on the economy than any other issue, according to a September USA TODAY Network Ohio/Suffolk University Political Research Center poll.
Columbus is seen as the state's economic bright spot, but things do not shine even here for everyone.
The state's unemployment rate remained around 4%, where it has been since April, but talk of a recession in early 2023 looms. Cracks in the labor market are beginning to show as companies including OhioHealth have had layoffs.
More than 53% of likely voters who took part in that September poll said economic conditions here are “fair," but 23% of voters called conditions “poor."
Nearly 45% of those voters said their standard of living is worse now than four years ago. This comes as little surprise.
Ohio's food banks — the Mid-Ohio Food Collective included — are struggling to keep up with the increased demand from the unemployed.
The Intel semiconductor plant offers hope that the Rust Belt chapter will finally close, and the state will emerge as a player in the so-called Silicon Heartland.
This possibility lingers as the brain drain continues to draw far too many of Ohio's best and brightest from everywhere in the state but Columbus.
What do J.D. Vance and Tim Ryan plan to do for Ohio workers?
The things he has said about the economy are vague and out of a playbook that focuses on energy independence, bashing the Biden administration on spending and inflation and commending the Trump administration's trade policy.
He's been light on details and comprehension of what Ohioans need and want.
"I think this is largely a self-inflicted wound. Global commodity prices are always going to shift here and there in ways that you can't control. But if you look at things like the Keystone pipeline, shutting down that on day one, if you look at the really low number of oil and gas permits the Biden administration has granted, I think that we've really shot ourselves in the foot when it comes to energy prices."
Ryan has focused his economic message on finding bipartisan solutions, taking on China and stopping "stupid" political fights to end "decades of disinvestment, unfair trade and outsourcing, and policies that have boosted the wealthiest and the biggest corporations at the expense of working people."
Ryan was asked how he would help Ohioans facing financial hardships during a joint meeting with members of our board and others in the USA TODAY Ohio Network.
Vance was invited but declined to participate in the meeting which included questions submitted by readers from around the state.
Ryan told our board that "political people" get themselves in trouble when they think that things are OK because fundamentals of the economy like wages and unemployment seem good.
Tax cuts are needed for individuals and small businesses because those fundamentals are not being felt by Americans, he said.
"We've been to all 88 counties. We are going everywhere. It can be a home health care worker, it can be a construction worker— the gas prices are crushing people (as well as) food and general supply chain stuff," he said. "You have got to put money in people's pockets right now."
"Inflation is a global problem. It is a little bit better here than it is in other places, but that does not eliminate the fact that people are being hurt. (There should be) a straight tax cut. Do what we did with child tax credit, advance it. The earned income tax credit, advance it. And then a general tax cut."
What about the culture wars and social issues?
News out of Ohio's Statehouse and words out of J.D. Vance's mouth leave many with the impression that Ohio is more extreme on social issues than multiple polls indicate.
Ohio needs representation in Washington that appreciates and recognizes the richness and potential of all people — not just those of one particular party or the other.
Former Ohio Republican lawmaker: J.D. Vance a 'craven shapeshifter' regurgitating MAGA speak
To that end, supporters of the former president should question Vance's loyalty to MAGA.
Vance, who has taken up for a host of extremists and been flippant about the Russia invasion of Ukraine, does not deserve to replace Portman, a fellow Republican, in the U.S. Senate.
Vance is no statesman.
He is no Howard Metzenbaum, George Voinovich, John Glenn, Sherrod Brown, Mike Dewine or Rob Portman.
On Tucker, JD Vance invokes the great replacement conspiracy theory: "Democrat politicians who have decided that they cant win re-election in 2022 unless they bring in a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here" pic.twitter.com/LWR1D0ctTa
— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) March 18, 2022
As senators they worked across party lines in the name of Ohioans. They did not fling insults to win political points, peddle in the "great replacement theory" conspiracy that there is an immigrant invasion or imply a woman should stay with her abusive husband for the good of the kids.
Columbus and the rest of Ohio need a statesman who will stand up for the people of the state.
Letters: Readers respond to J.D. Vance column
Standing against party
Make no mistake, Ryan is a Democrat, having only voted against his party four times (0.4 %) during the 117th Congress (2021 to 2022).
The average Democrat voted opposite of his or her party 1.7% of the time, according to ProPublica.
That said, Ryan is not always in lockstep with his party's leadership on everything and has a clear backbone.
The 49-year-old, 10-term congressman ran against Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in 2017 for House minority leader. He has publicly criticized her for a list of issues that include so-called 'congressional day trading,' House members using their positions to get rich in the stock market.
Not that this board agrees with all of his positions, but Ryan has spoken out against President Joe Biden's popular student loan forgiveness plan and said a generational shift is needed and Biden and others should not run for reelection.
“Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, the president, everybody,” he said at a recent debate. “We need a new generation of leadership.”
Ryan was not a fan of Trump but joined 193 Democrats and 192 Republicans to approve the former president's United States-Mexico-Canada free trade act.
Ryan voted against several free trade bills, including then-President Barack Obama's authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“I love the president,” Ryan said at the time. “He’s done a lot for manufacturing. He’s helped us in Youngstown, and he understands the value of manufacturing. But on this particular issue, he is not fully seeing what we should be doing with the American economy.”
What's important to Ohio?
Ryan supports issues many Ohioans say are important to them: including expanding the economy and supporting seniors, abortion access, affordable health care including mental health, affordable housing, upholding democracy, ending racial disparities and increasing equality for those in the LGBTQ community.
During that recent meeting with the editorial boards, he expressed understanding that Ohio's future growth cannot be placed squarely on the shoulders of Columbus, which is experiencing the challenges that come with rapid growth including an affordable housing shortage.
Representing forgotten Ohioans
"We need you to locate these suppliers around the state. We have so many forgotten communities that have great people, great culture. Iconic cities," he said.
He said he'd work with the governor and JobsOhio to help identify and secure the resources and infrastructure cities like Marietta and Portsmouth need to land big employers.
Ryan says he has met with people all over the state, including those in Republican leaning so-called red counties.
He said it is a moral issue.
"We have to represent these people too ... Go get their vote. Go tell them what you're going to do for them. Go tell them you care about them. We've done that. That's the kind of leader Ohio wants."
A lot is at stake this election as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the U.S. House and the Senate.
The person Ohio sends to Washington to replace Portman will help decide what we will become.
That person should be capable and willing to represent all of us.
That person should put the good of Ohioans above political aspirations and loyalty to party.
That person is Tim Ryan.
We urge you to vote for him on or before Nov. 8.
Endorsement editorials are our board's fact-based assessment of issues of importance to the communities we serve. These are not the opinions of our reporting staff members, who strive for neutrality in their reporting.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board endorses Tim Ryan for U.S. Senate