Democrat Tim Ryan faces long odds running for Senate in Trump's Ohio
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There's a key Senate race in Ohio this year. The GOP field is crowded with candidates in the mold of former President Trump. On the Democratic side, the leading candidate is Congressman Tim Ryan, who's aiming to win over working-class voters that Trump himself relied on. But Ryan faces an uphill battle in a state that's become more Republican. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It's 9 in the morning, 22 degrees. I'm following Congressman Tim Ryan. He's got a busy day ahead - five stops. The first one here, just outside Columbus, is at the Carpenters Union Hall. Let's go inside.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERS POUNDING)
GONYEA: Tim Ryan grew up in the Youngstown area, so union halls are a second home to him, but he can't take support in a place like this for granted. Ryan chats up a group of carpenter apprentices, first about jobs. But almost immediately, the conversation turns to football. That's because Joe Burrow, who played high school ball about an hour from here, is the quarterback for the Super Bowl-bound Cincinnati Bengals.
TIM RYAN: Long way to go. The thing about him, though - he can get sacked five times, and he's still standing.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He can still win a game. Jesus.
RYAN: It's unbelievable. Where are you guys working?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm out there at Facebook.
GONYEA: The talk goes back and forth, football and jobs.
RYAN: Well, I'll let you guys get back - appreciate it. You guys take care. Thank you.
GONYEA: Thirty-three-year-old carpenter Jamel Kendrick was in the group. He admits he doesn't know much about Ryan.
JAMEL KENDRICK: We're getting plenty of work. I just want to make sure that the work just stays. Columbus is doing a lot of growing right now. Maybe with Mr. - I'm sorry. What was his name?
KENDRICK: Mr. Ryan. Hopefully, he can go ahead and push some of that things (ph) forward and keep us working and, you know, keep us happy.
GONYEA: Kendrick is an independent voter. He backed Joe Biden but says he did consider voting Trump for economic reasons. It's voters like this that Ryan needs, and it's why he spends so much time talking about jobs.
Ryan travels in a maroon GMC pickup truck with a few aides. Next stop is a company that makes clay roof tiles, then to the river town of McConnelsville for a small meet-and-greet and late lunch at the Chatterbox Tavern.
RYAN: This is a mushroom burger with hot peppers on it. Well, they're not hot. They're banana peppers. Mushroom, provolone - oh, my.
GONYEA: There was talk here of how stretched basic city services are and how getting broadband would give this town a boost. Next, another 60-mile trek to the city of Marietta and the offices of the local Democratic Party. It was packed as Ryan spoke.
RYAN: And we've had a lot of economic policy decisions that have been made for the last 30 or 40 years that have wrecked the middle class - the trade deals, the outsourcing, then automation, all of these things. And nobody cared. Nobody cared.
GONYEA: And he said politicians of both parties were to blame. A union equipment operator named Heath Stevens was in the back nodding in agreement. A Democrat, he said he wished his Republican coworkers would hear what Ryan's got to say. It's frustrating, he says.
HEATH STEVENS: It's hard for me to see why some people wouldn't vote for him. But, you know, some guys I work with will never hear his name and will never get to hear him talk to a crowd.
GONYEA: Ryan said that's why he's in places where Democrats don't usually go. There is a template for the kind of jobs-focused campaign Ryan is running. Three-term Senator Sherrod Brown is a Democrat who's found continued success in Ohio even as the state turns more red.
RYAN: Sherrod Brown is an economic Ohio Democrat, and so am I.
GONYEA: Ryan stresses he's ready to pick fights with anyone, even Democrats. There is evidence in his longshot bid to challenge Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic leader back in 2016. He also makes it clear that despite his strong support for President Biden's economic agenda, he won't be seeking Biden's help campaigning.
RYAN: I don't need proxies. I don't need anyone to help me. I don't need, you know, someone to come campaign for me. I can handle this myself.
GONYEA: The next morning, Ryan walked into a coffee shop on the Ohio River in Meigs County. The center tables were already filled with local citizens, all Democrats in a county Trump carried 3 to 1. The talk was familiar.
RYAN: It always gets back to broadband infrastructure, skills, education, you know?
GONYEA: Ryan has a long chat with a woman seated over in the corner. Her name is Lynsi McKinney, a stay-at-home mom with three kids. She told me they talked about the economy, and she liked what she heard. She says she's a Republican, but...
LYNSI MCKINNEY: I am going to vote for whoever I believe is going to do right by my family and my friends.
GONYEA: She did vote for Donald Trump, but she says she does not like Trump's obsession with the 2020 result, nor does she believe the election was stolen.
MCKINNEY: Going back and counting the votes, I think that everybody did their best to make sure that it was fair and all of the votes were counted correctly. So I don't know.
GONYEA: But she still likes Trump, and if he endorses one of the Republicans running for Senate in Ohio, that would be a plus for her. It's a reminder of how big a task Tim Ryan has in trying to win votes in these Trump strongholds.
Don Gonyea, NPR News.
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