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Ohio Senate battle: Dem Rep. Tim Ryan takes aim at JD Vance over China, touts he ‘agreed’ with Trump on trade

EXCLUSIVE: One month into Ohio’s fiery race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman, Democratic nominee Rep. Tim Ryan is once again using Republican standard-bearer JD Vance’s past words as verbal ammunition.

In a campaign where both candidates are spotlighting their populist credentials and showcasing their tough on China stances, Ryan in a new campaign ad highlights a five-year-old interview from Vance where the then-venture capitalist appeared to deflect blame away from free trade deals with countries like China for the loss of American manufacturing jobs. 

And Ryan, who has championed the working class during his nearly two decades in Congress representing a blue-collar district in northeast Ohio, touts in the commercial that he agreed with then-President Donald Trump in opposing free trade deals.

NEW POLL: JD VANCE HOLDS SLIGHT EDGE OVER REP. TIM RYAN IN OHIO SENATE RACE

The spot, which was shared first with Fox News Digital on Friday, starts with an audio clip of Vance from a 2017 podcast saying “I think you can make a pretty good argument that it was not necessarily bad trade deals… You know, it’s not that we have this terrible trade deal with China.”

The ad then cuts to Ryan, standing in what appears to be a deserted factory, saying “wrong.” Ryan goes on to charge that in San Francisco, JD Vance made millions profiting from globalization.”

Vance, known by many as the best-selling author of his memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” lived for a stint in California as he worked as a principal in a technology industry venture capital firm owned by billionaire hedge fund giant Peter Thiel. 

And trying to turn the tables on the Trump-backed Vance, Ryan emphasizes: “I agreed with Trump on trade. I voted against outsourcing every single time. We’ve got to get tough on China. And I’ll work with anyone to fix our supply chains and bring manufacturing home. Let’s make things in Ohio again.”

JD VANCE AND REP. TIM RYAN WAGE BATTLE OF THE POPULISTS IN OHIO’S OPEN SENATE SEAT RACE

Ryan’s campaign tells Fox News the new commercial is part of their ongoing seven-figure statewide ad blitz. And it’s the congressman’s second general election spot where he takes aim at Vance by using the GOP nominee’s past words against himself. 

The earlier commercial showcased a 2016 podcast where Vance suggested that “we maybe have to fess up and admit” that a 55-year-old in Dayton, Ohio who’s worked his entire life in manufacturing “may not be able to find a good-paying job for the rest of his working life.”

The Vance campaign, pushing back against the new ad, pointed to a Ryan tweet from July 7, 2018, when the congressman wrote that Trump’s tariffs were “designed to inflict maximum damage on the U.S. economy, for minimal gain.”

After his years in California, Vance moved back to his native Ohio and started his own venture capital firm with the backing Thiel and other investors. Last year he jumped into Ohio’s crowded and combative GOP Senate primary and made his tough talk on China and his support for Trump’s “America First” agenda centerpieces of his populist style campaign.

TRUMP-BACKED VANCE WINS TUMULTOUS GOP SENATE PRIMARY IN OHIO

Vance surged after landing the former president’s endorsement less than three weeks ahead of Ohio’s May 3 primary, and thanks to Trump’s support he ended up winning a very hard-fought nomination.

A few days later, at a Trump rally in neighboring Pennsylvania, Vance once again spotlighted his tough stance on China and on companies that outsource jobs to the Asian powerhouse, stressing, “we have to stop being weak on China. We have to stop sending American jobs to people who hate us.”

Ryan, a center-left politician who has long showcased his heartland heritage and his ability to connect with the White working-class voters in the Rust Belt, had a much easier time winning his party’s nomination as he handily bested two lesser-known rivals.

TRUMP WASN’T ON THE BALLOT BUT WAS A BIG WINNER IN OHIO’S GOP PRIMARIES

The congressman has long spotlighted his efforts to champion workers and their jobs, and to Beijing’s influence. In March, in his first TV ad of his Senate campaign, Ryan lamented that “China is out-manufacturing us left and right” and stressed that “America can never be dependent on communist China.”

Vance has accused Ryan of copying his rhetoric and says his rival is running as “a Trump Democrat.”

And responding to the Ryan ad, Ohio Republican Party chair Bob Paduchik told Fox News that “JD Vance is an America First fighter who knows what it takes to put the interests of Ohio workers ahead of Communist China.”

And he argued that “fake Tim Ryan may be adopting a new campaign talking point, but Ohioans vividly remember Ryan opposing President Trump’s tough stance on China and enabling President Biden to destroy our credibility on the world stage with his failed policies.”

Senate Democratic candidate Rep. Tim Ryan answers a question during Ohio's U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Debate on Monday, March 28, 2022 at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. (Joshua A. Bickel/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, Pool)

It’s no surprise that both candidates have repeatedly taken aim at each other’s working-class credentials.

Ohio, once a top general election battleground that gave then-President George W. Bush his 2004 reelection victory, has trended redder in recent cycles, thanks in part to Trump’s major gains with working-class voters. Former President Barack Obama, in his 2012 reelection, and populist Sen. Sherrod Brown, in his 2018 reelection, were the last two Democrats to win statewide in Ohio.

But a USA Today Network Ohio/Suffolk University survey released Wednesday indicated Vance with a razor-thin 2-point edge over Ryan among likely general election voters in the Buckeye State.

The showdown could potentially end up being one of a handful of contests that determine if Republicans win back the Senate majority in November’s midterm elections.

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