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McConnell allies launch ad blitz to prop up J.D. Vance's Senate campaign in Ohio

The $28 million commitment comes as other Republican Senate candidates struggle in battleground states that ordinarily would be more competitive than Ohio.
J.D. Vance, co-founder of Narya Capital Management LLC and Republican Senate candidate for Ohio, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas, US, on Aug. 5, 2022.
J.D. Vance, the Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas on Aug. 5.Dylan Hollingsworth / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

A group aligned with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is buying $28 million worth of airtime to boost Senate hopeful J.D. Vance in Ohio — the latest spending spree for Vance, the "Hillbilly Elegy" author, amid concerns about his strength in a GOP-leaning state.

TV and radio ads from the Senate Leadership Fund will begin Sept. 6 and run statewide through Election Day, a spokesperson said. was first to report the investment.

Vance’s campaign has drawn criticism from Republicans at the local and national levels since he won a nasty and crowded primary in May. His Democratic opponent, Rep. Tim Ryan, has spent the summer saturating the airwaves with a GOP-friendly message. Meanwhile, other Republican Senate candidates in battleground states that ordinarily would be more competitive than Ohio — Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia — have struggled, raising questions about how thin the party's resources might be spread this fall.

“Every dollar spent on his race is a dollar not spent in a more competitive state,” a national Republican operative with deep Ohio experience said recently, referring to plans by outside spending groups to prop up Vance, which began surfacing this month. The operative requested anonymity to speak candidly about intraparty frustrations.

Up until a recent burst of activity that will include an appearance Friday in Youngstown with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vance had been keeping a low profile. His campaign ended the last fundraising quarter owing more money than it had on hand. And a poll released Thursday by Emerson College found the race to be a statistical dead heat, with Vance at 45% and Ryan at 42% in a survey of likely voters. Former President Donald Trump won Ohio by 8 percentage points in 2016 and 2020, and Sen. Rob Portman, the Republican whose retirement has opened the seat, was re-elected by more than 20 points in 2016.

“Tim Ryan has been living a lie, spending millions unopposed to sell voters on a version of himself that doesn’t square with reality,” Steven Law, the Senate Leadership Fund’s president, said in an emailed statement. “That’s about to change as Ohioans get a clear picture of the real Ryan who votes down the line with Pelosi and Biden in Washington.”

Image: 2020 Presidential Candidates Speak At Iowa Democratic Wing Ding
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, in Clear Lake, Iowa, in 2019. Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The Senate Leadership Fund's $28 million play in Ohio ranks the state third — behind Georgia and Pennsylvania — in the group's advertising commitments from Labor Day to Election Day, although such figures often reflect the costs of certain media markets more than the actual competitiveness of a state. The ad blitz also follows a $3.8 million effort that another McConnell-aligned group announced this month. Vance himself has relied on the National Republican Senatorial Committee to help fund a separate $1 million ad buy that includes an introductory spot featuring Vance's wife, Usha, speaking straight to the camera.

Noting Vance’s southwest Ohio upbringing, which was documented in his bestselling memoir-turned-movie, the GOP operative with Ohio ties said: "I’ve been a fan of Vance from the beginning, because a poor kid from Middletown uniquely understands the needs of our state. But if he can’t raise money, he can’t get to the Senate."

A representative for Vance's campaign declined to comment on the assist.

Ryan's aides and allies — who have spent the last week trying to characterize Vance as an interloper who is more comfortable in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, where his venture capital work has taken him — responded with glee.

"There’s no amount of money in this world that will convince voters here that Vance is anything but an out-of-touch phony who already sold out Ohioans once for his own gain and would do it again in a heartbeat," Ryan spokesperson Izzi Levy said. "Even Republicans admit Vance is a terrible candidate running a terrible race, and McConnell’s multimillion-dollar bailout isn’t going to change that."