Ohio Senate candidates Rep. Tim Ryan (D) and venture capitalist J.D. Vance (R) got into a heated exchange at Monday night's debate in Youngstown that devolved into personal insults and veiled accusations of racism.
The candidates met Monday for their final debate before the Nov. 8 election, which proved contentious after a moderator asked Ryan for his opinion on the "Great Replacement Theory." The conspiracy theory is a fringe belief that Jewish elites are organizing the mass importation of non-white immigrants into the United States to dilute the white vote and seize power.
Democrats and media figures have conflated the Great Replacement Theory with conservative opposition to illegal immigration in order to demonize their opponents as racists and xenophobes. Ryan attempted to do the same to Vance, linking the conspiracy theory to the deadly mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket in May, in which the perpetrator targeted a predominantly black community, and accusing Vance of holding similar views to the shooter.
"I think it's nonsense. I think it is grounded in some of the most racially divisive writings in the history of the world, and this is who he's running around with," Ryan said, pointing at his Republican opponent.
"It's shameful for you to accuse me of that, given my family," Vance interjected.
"My turn, pal," Ryan said, continuing with his response. "This great replacement theory was the motivator for the shooting in Buffalo, where that shooter had all these great replacement theory writings that J.D. Vance agrees with," Ryan charged, pointing again. "Some sicko got this information that he's peddling. Again, those extremists that he runs around with: Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ted Cruz, all these guys just want to stoke this racial violence. We're tired of it, J.D.!"
Vance, who has three children with his Indian American wife, was visibly angry as he responded.
"This is disgusting," he said. "Here's exactly what happens when the media and people like Tim Ryan accuse me of engaging in the Great Replacement Theory. What happens is that my own children, my biracial children, get attacked by scumbags online and in person because you are so desperate for political power that you'll accuse me, the father of three beautiful biracial babies, of engaging in racism. We are sick of it!
"You can believe in the border without being a racist. You can believe in the country without being a racist. And this just shows how desperate this guy is for political power," Vance said, gesturing toward Ryan.
Turning to his opponent, Vance said, "I know you've been in office for 20 years, Tim, and I know it's a sweet gig. But you're so desperate not to have a real job that you'll slander me and slander my family. It's disgraceful."
Ryan answered with an amused expression on his face, "I think I struck a nerve with this guy."
The clash over Great Replacement Theory took place near the end of what was otherwise a civil debate at Stambaugh Auditoriam hosted by WFMJ-TV. Ryan, a 10-term congressman, and Vance, a venture capitalist and best-selling author, answered questions on inflation, abortion rights, the opioid crisis in Ohio, and more.
Polls show a very close race, with Vance leading by two points in the RealClearPolitics average. Surveys taken in October have shown Vance with one-, two-, or three-point leads, within the margin of error. The candidates are competing to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), with Democrats spending millions to flip the seat and potentially increase their Senate majority.