by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A senior staffer from Rep. Tim Ryan’s (D., Ohio) Senate campaign told the Atlantic in May that the candidate only had a shot at winning if President Joe Biden’s approval rating in Ohio was above 42 percent on Election Day. Since that article was published, not a single poll had Biden’s approval above 41 percent.
But that didn’t stop mainstream media journalists from pitching Ryan as the kind of culturally conservative Democrat who could pull off an upset in November. Without presenting evidence that he had any broad appeal in his home state of Ohio, article after article characterized him as the type of Democrat who had a playbook for success in a red state.
Politico declared Ryan the “Democrats’ best messenger on the economy,” and Time magazine lauded his ability to channel both Bobby Kennedy and Ronald Reagan on the trail. Ryan had “blue-collar credibility,” in the words of the New York Times, and was winning over voters with an “appeal to unity in these fractured times.” Ryan was “the perfect test case of whether somebody can bridge the gap between Democrats’ moderate and progressive wings,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
That kind of treatment likely led small-dollar Democratic donors around the country to believe Ryan possessed the secret formula to pull off an upset. Ryan successfully rode his army of small donors to a 400 percent cash advantage over his Republican challenger J.D. Vance. Ryan managed to raise more money than other Democrats who would end up losing their races by far smaller margins, such as Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina. Ryan even raised more than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee.
Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball and author of The Bellwether, a book about Ohio politics, said the praise from mainstream media outlets attracts donations from their readers.