In key US Senate race in Ohio, Democrat Tim Ryan leads Republican JD Vance by a point: Suffolk poll

Haley BeMiller
Cincinnati Enquirer
J.D. Vance, the Republican running in Ohio's U.S. Senate race, visited the Mansfield News Journal on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, to talk about his campaign.

With less than two months to go before Election Day, Ohio's closely watched U.S. Senate race is far from settled.

USA TODAY Network Ohio/Suffolk University poll released Monday showed J.D. Vance and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan virtually tied in the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman. The Democratic congressman maintained a small lead with 46.6% compared to 45.6% of voters who planned to support Vance.

Roughly 6% of voters were undecided.

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The result was within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, suggesting the seat remains up for grabs at this point in the game. It also mirrored other independent surveys conducted in recent weeks that point to a competitive race heading into peak campaign season.

Pollsters surveyed 500 likely Ohio voters between Sept. 5 and Sept. 7.

September Ohio Poll U.S. Senate race.

Republicans boost spending to help Vance

The poll comes as Vance and his allies ramp up spending to counter Ryan, who used a massive fundraising haul to dominate the airwaves all summer. The Senate Leadership Fund, for instance, announced it would spend $28 million in the Buckeye State and pulled funds from Arizona in part because of an "unexpected expense in Ohio," Politico reported. The race in Ohio could help determine which party controls the Senate, which is currently split between Democrats and Republicans.

Vance's campaign placed its first statewide television ad buy of the general election last week, according to Medium Buying, a Columbus-based ad-tracking firm.

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“Republicans are having to play defense in a race where they were hoping they wouldn’t have to," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.

United States Representative Tim Ryan, running for U.S Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Senator Rob Portman, gave a town hall aimed at undecided voters at Alley Park in Lancaster, Ohio on August 3, 2022.

Why Tim Ryan is targeting independent voters

Ryan has spent most of his campaign targeting independent voters in an effort to counter Democratic losses to former President Donald Trump, particularly among white, rural Ohioans. Vance and other critics are quick to point out that he's voted with President Joe Biden's agenda 100% of the time, although Ryan has largely avoided Biden during the president's trips to Ohio. Ryan did attend the groundbreaking for Intel's new factories in Licking County with the president on Friday.

Ryan is holding steady with independent voters, according to the poll, and had support from 12% of Republicans.

“Ryan’s demonstrating both solidarity within his party and the ability to cross over – not major crossover, but enough to make this a competitive race," said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.

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Still, elections can change quickly − and Vance has some key metrics on his side.

The poll found that 53% of Ohioans disapprove of Biden, and 42% want the country to go in a different direction than the president has taken it. That gives Vance an opportunity to present himself as a foil to the Biden administration and Democrats, including Ryan, who support Biden's policies.

Vance is more popular among voters worried about the economy and inflation, which remains the top issue of concern for Ohioans. He also boosted his favorability among independents and people of color.

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.