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Ohio senate race: What Catholics should know about J.D. Vance, Tim Ryan

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The U.S. Senate race in Ohio, set to be decided at the midterm elections on Nov. 8, features a pair of Catholics with diverging policy positions.

Republican J.D. Vance, a Catholic convert, is squaring off against Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat and cradle Catholic. Both men are vying to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Rob Portman.

Vance, a venture capitalist and political novice, rose to prominence thanks to his bestselling 2016 memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” which chronicles his challenging Ohio upbringing. In recent years, Vance has embraced the political style and earned the endorsement of former president Donald Trump.

Ryan has represented the working-class city of Youngstown in Congress since 2003. Now a supporter of President Joe Biden, Ryan had launched his own bid for the presidency from April to October 2019.

A poll aggregator at FiveThirtyEight, a data-based journalism site, shows Vance ahead in the race, with 46.4% support compared with Ryan’s 45.0%.

And according to a new EWTN poll, Vance enjoys a lead overall among Catholics — 55.5% of likely Catholic voters in Ohio support Vance, while 41% back Ryan. Of the Catholic voters who identified as Democrat, 89.4% went for Ryan and 9.1% for Vance. Of Republican Catholic voters, 91% say they would vote for Vance while 5.6% would cast their ballots for Ryan. Predictably, Vance captured a majority of voters in the Cincinnati area, where he grew up; and Ryan has the edge in the Youngstown area, where he has been active in politics for decades.

The voters in the EWTN poll practice their Catholic faith to varying degrees. Breaking down the results by Mass attendance, Vance was most popular among Catholics who say they attend Mass daily, with nine out of 10 saying they planned to support him. Ryan captured the majority of Catholics who attend once a year or less.

In addition, broken down by whether they agree with the Church’s teachings, Ryan had the edge among those who consider themselves “former Catholics,” two-thirds of whom said they would vote for him. Nine in 10 Catholics who say they agree with all of the Church’s teachings say they will back Vance.

In light of the upcoming election, the Catholic Conference of Ohio encourages Catholics to “advocate on issues according to Catholic Social Teaching” in a fall newsletter. It asks citizens, candidates, and elected officials to commit to the U.S. bishops’ campaign Civilize It,” which calls on Catholics to promote a “better kind of politics.”

Ryan and Vance on the issues

EWTN’s recent polling showed that in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, a large majority of Catholic voters cited the economy as the most important issue facing the nation.

In Ohio, nearly 60% of voters listed the economy as the most important issue, followed by 16.3% who said “Illegal Immigration/Border Security,” 7.3% who said abortion, and 6.4% who said climate change. These four issues ranked above issues such as health care, crime, K-12 education, and religious freedom.

Both Ryan and Vance have taken a public stance on these four issues that Ohio voters say they most care about.

Economy

Ryan is campaigning on passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (a bill that promises to expand labor protections), raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding access to high-quality and affordable child care, and protecting retirement, according to his campaign website.

Ryan says that he will work toward a full economic recovery — and that he has already done so by working to bring businesses and investment to Ohio, helping small businesses stay open during the pandemic, and cutting taxes for businesses that provide paid leave and other benefits.

He also promises to close gender and racial pay gaps and to promote access to credit and capital for minority-owned businesses, according to his website.

Vance addresses inflation on his campaign website, calling it the result of needless spending by the Biden administration. He stresses the impact of inflation on normal Americans, particularly senior citizens with fixed incomes.

He pledges to defend small businesses and criticized the U.S. economy for favoring foreign companies that oppose American values. He says he would support tax cuts for companies that invest in the U.S. but also called for raising taxes on companies that “ship jobs overseas and use their money to fund anti-American radical movements.”

Immigration

The candidates agree that the U.S. immigration system needs to change.

On his campaign website, Ryan calls for modernizing the current system. In particular, he commits to “working with anyone to make it easier to immigrate here legally, streamline and update our intake processes for refugees and asylum seekers, and establish a path to citizenship for the workers and small business owners who are already in the United States.”

Vance, according to his website, promises to “solve the southern border crisis” by opposing any attempts by Democrats to grant amnesty, working to finish construction of a border wall, and doubling the number of border agents in the U.S.

He also calls for reforming the legal immigration system by changing who is admitted and by reducing the total numbers, saying the U.S. should admit those who “contribute something meaningful to our country.”

Abortion

Ryan today supports legal abortion, putting him at odds with the teaching of his Catholic faith. He had voted for numerous pro-life measures since his first election to Congress in 2003 and described himself as “pro-life” until at least 2009, even serving for a time on the executive board of Democrats for Life. But in 2015, he wrote an op-ed saying he now believes that governments should not be involved in legislating abortion.

Ryan, on his current campaign website, touts his position as a co-sponsor and supporter of the Women’s Health Protection Act, a radical pro-abortion bill that has failed before in the Senate. If elected, he says he promises to study judicial nominees’ records and statements on “reproductive rights” and oppose the confirmation of nominees who will not protect “this critical right.”

“Every Ohioan should be able to access the health care that’s right for them, and that includes protecting the right to safe, legal abortion,” Ryan’s campaign website states under “Protecting Reproductive Freedom.” 

It continues: “As the state legislature and local governments around Ohio push dangerous proposals to ban abortion without exception for rape or incest, and to punish people for helping those seeking urgently-needed care, Tim is working to protect reproductive freedom for all Ohioans.”

According to the EWTN poll, 17.4% of Catholic voters in Ohio say abortion should be available at any time during pregnancy, or nearly 83% believe there should be some restrictions on abortion.

Vance describes himself as “100 percent pro-life” and has earned the endorsement of The Ohio Right to Life Society. He calls for eliminating abortion by protecting the unborn and building a more pro-child and pro-family society, according to his campaign website. To take action, he promises to expand child tax credits and ensure that hospitals don’t cripple young parents with “budget-busting surprise bills.”

Following the Dobbs decision, his website reads: “The pro-life fight continues by ensuring that every young mother has the resources to bring new life into the world, expanding adoption and promoting pregnancy centers, so that every child grows up in a loving home, as they deserve.”

Vance has said that he would vote for the 15-week national abortion ban introduced by Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and has in debates implied that he favors exceptions to abortion laws to preserve the life of the mother.

Climate change

Ryan’s website says that the Ohio Democrat is focused on combating climate change and advocates for the protection of Ohio’s natural resources. Among other things, he cited his work in funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and his efforts to clean up Ohio’s waterways.

Instead of relying on China, Ryan says he wants Ohio citizens to provide “clean manufacturing” and supply the world with wind turbines, solar panels, batteries, and electric vehicles, for a “clean energy economy.”

Vance’s campaign website does not list climate change as an issue. Recognizing Ohio as one of the world’s top producers of natural gas and oil, he calls for “common-sense energy policies” so that the U.S. can become energy independent.

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Ohio senate race: What Catholics should know about J.D. Vance, Tim Ryan