Journal Opinion: Ryan Runs for Senate

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – US. Rep. Tim Ryan’s decision to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Rob Portman came as no surprise – political insiders expected it for weeks if not months.

Much as Ryan did during his brief campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, he is calling attention to the socio-economic obstacles that have impeded the Mahoning Valley for decades. The video that Ryan circulated to launch his campaign focused on investments in workforce training and infrastructure to improve business competitiveness and create jobs. Co-starring his young son (who’s missing his two front teeth and nearly steals the show), Ryan’s video employs slick production values to tell a hometown narrative. It’s obvious that his campaign is getting top-notch help from Democratic message pros. At this point, it seems that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has cleared the primary field.  

Still, Ryan is the underdog. He failed to carry Trumbull County in 2020, red-flagging how the culture wars have deflated Democrats’ blue-collar base. Donald Trump won Ohio twice by eight percentage points, and carried Mahoning and Trumbull counties in 2020. Democrats are all but shut out of nonjudicial statewide offices. The sole exception is U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who was elected to his third term in 2018 and, like Ryan, has consistently focused on economic competitiveness and worker-related issues.

One inescapable reality is the likelihood that Ryan’s 13th congressional district will be no more in 2022. Apportionment data drawn from the 2020 census show that Ohio will lose one seat in the House of Representatives. It is widely expected that Republicans in Columbus will scatter these voters into neighboring districts in a way that will maintain GOP control. The likely outcome: For the first time in more than 100 years, the Mahoning Valley will not be the home base of a representative in Congress.

The last House member who didn’t reside in the Mahoning Valley was Ellsworth Bathrick, a Democrat from Akron who served from 1911 to 1915. Bathrick was defeated by John G. Cooper, a Republican railroad engineer from Youngstown who served until he was defeated in 1936 by Youngstown Councilman Michael J. Kirwan, a Democrat who served until his death in 1970. Democrat Charles Carney, a labor leader, followed, then Republican Lyle Williams, a Trumbull County commissioner who served three terms before losing his seat to Mahoning County Sheriff Jim Traficant. Ryan, once a young aide to Traficant, succeeded him.

The Mahoning Valley has benefited from having one of our own serve in the House of Representatives. Given how the new districts are likely to be loaded, it would be a challenge for someone from any of the communities that comprise the Mahoning Valley to win election to Congress.

A U.S. senator who grew up in Niles? Partisan issues aside, it would be a big boost.