Moments after speaking to a group of supporters during a campaign stop in Batavia, Ohio, Republican Senate nominee J.D. Vance strolled with his wife, Usha, and their two children to a nearby coffee shop.
A few minutes later, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author and venture capitalist emerged from the entrance and sat down on the front step flanked by his family.
Though it was just a few days before the culmination of a long and contentious bid to replace retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman, the scene that unfolded outside that southwest Ohio coffee shop illustrated Vance’s comfort level and confidence about what he expects will happen on Election Night, Nov. 8.
Just as he has during multiple campaign stops in recent weeks, Vance told a crowd at the Clermont County Republican Party headquarters in this small town that he will win on Nov. 8 and “never forget where he came from.”
Later that day, at a rally in northern Columbus with Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, Vance said, “I think that we’re in a very good place. I think that we’re going to win, and I don’t think it will be that close.”
Though the Real Clear Politics average of polls showed Vance with a 7.5-point lead as of Nov. 5, Democratic candidate Tim Ryan’s words at recent campaign stops have also demonstrated confidence about what the results will reveal on Election Night.
At an event last week in Medina, a city in northeast Ohio where Donald Trump won by nearly 25 points in 2020, Ryan told supporters that the math would add up in his favor on Nov. 8.
Standing next to a “Don’t Tread On My Uterus” flag, Ryan added, “So watch out, because we’re ordinary people who are about to do something extraordinary. We’re gonna win Ohio.”
That claim seemed more possible over the summer.
While Vance faced a contentious Republican primary that featured seven candidates, Ryan decisively won the Democratic primary. The 10-term congressman who represents the Youngstown area briefly ran for president in 2019 before dropping out. It appeared his chances to defeat Vance were promising last summer when he led in the polls.
Some Ohio-based and national Republican organizations expressed concern when Ryan was highly visible with his advertising and public appearances while Vance took a more measured approach.
Ad spending from GOP-aligned groups, and Vance’s performances in the two debates, gradually shifted the outlook for the race.
Ryan last held a lead in a poll on Sept. 22 when Spectrum News/Siena College gave the former Democratic presidential candidate a three-point edge.
Trump won Ohio by eight points in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Ohio has a Republican-controlled state legislature and incumbent Republican Gov. Mike DeWine holds a double-digit lead in the polls over his Democratic challenger, former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley.
Ryan, who is 49, first took office as a congressman in 2003. He worked for former Democratic U.S. Rep. James Traficant. When Traficant was convicted of criminal charges in 2002, Ryan declared his candidacy to replace his boss.
Since winning the primary and taking on his Republican opponent, Ryan has positioned himself as an everyman who says he doesn’t even always agree with his wife and opposes extremes on the left and the right.
He has distanced himself from President Joe Biden and has avoided him in all but one of his visits to Ohio.
Recognizing Ohio’s support for Trump and the GOP, Ryan adopted a campaign strategy to gain crossover voters, including moderate Republicans and independents. In TV ads and campaign speeches, he has portrayed himself as a populist who will stand up against his own party and can effectively work with colleagues from both parties.
Congressional voting records tell a different story. Ryan has voted with Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time.
Vance’s campaign became more aggressive after Labor Day. His TV ads and campaign speeches tied Ryan to Biden, record-high inflation, and a rapidly increasing cost of living.
Vance’s poll numbers increased after the candidates took the stage in their two scheduled debates in October, though Ryan had a different viewpoint about the forums when he addressed the crowd in Medina.
“This ain’t us, we are not extremists,” Ryan said after he bragged about “kicking J.D.’s [expletive]” during the two debates and a Fox News town hall.
For months, Ryan has called Vance and anyone linked to Trump an “extremist.” At campaign stops in the final days of the race, he reinforced that message.
“It was the boys from Ohio who went and liberated Europe and it was the women in Ohio who built the arsenal of democracy so that we could push back against that extremism, that fascism that was sweeping Europe,” Ryan told an audience in suburban Cincinnati. “Right now, we are in that storyline.”
Ryan has called for unity and has also said the people should “kill and confront” the MAGA movement.
He has also complained about a lack of financial support from the Democratic Party while mostly avoiding Biden and running on a platform designed to attract moderate Republicans who do not approve of Trump’s “America First” beliefs.
Ryan has raised more money than Vance, but GOP-aligned groups have contributed more funds to bolster Vance than Democratic organizations have to help Ryan.
“The national Democratic Party has never been good at strategic political decisions,” Tim Ryan said. “Thank God that I have enough experience that I built this campaign not needing them, and we really don’t want them at this point.”
As he criss-crossed the state over the final weekend before Election Day, Ryan expressed confidence that his strategy to get non-Democrats to vote for him will reap rewards.
“Independent voters aren’t coming to vote for an extremist,” Ryan said. “They’re coming to vote for me. And so we’re going to win. I’ve been telling you guys that. No one wants to listen to me. We’ll have to wait until Tuesday.”