CLEVELAND — Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, is up with another series of ads that linked JD Vance, his Republican rival in the state’s US Senate race, to the tragedies of the opioid crisis.
Two spots — one 60 seconds, the other 30 — feature an Ohio mother mourning the loss of her son, identified only as Joe, to addiction.
“It’s not just the JD Vance pretended to help kids like Joe,” the mother says. “He brought in a woman funded by the drug companies for their own benefit. They continue to profit and our kids keep dying. I lost Joe, and JD only helped himself.”
“This wasn’t Joe’s fault,” the mother says at the end of the 60-second version. “He battled this so hard. I remember Joe saying I want to live mom. I want to live. I wanted that, too.”
The commercials, airing in Ohio’s six major TV markets and buying part of an eight-figure media, refer to work done by Our Ohio Renewal, a nonprofit that Vance — a venture capitalist and the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” — launched to address opioid Issues after moving back to his home state in 2016. The nonprofit, now dormant as Vance runs for Senate, has come under scrutiny for how little it actually did.
Last month, The Associated Press reported that the organization had hired a doctor with ties to the maker of OxyContin to serve a yearlong residency as an addiction specialist. The doctor has publicly questioned the links between doctor-prescribed painkillers with opioids and opioid addiction.
Ryan has made Vance’s nonprofit a frequent punching bag in his commercials, including a previous one that cited the hiring of the specialist and stated without evidence that Vance directly made Ohio’s opioid epidemic “worse.”
As the new ads landed Wednesday, one Vance ally quickly called foul.
“This ad is dishonest and exploitative,” said Luke Thompson, executive director Protect Ohio Values, a pro-Vance super PAC. “Tim Ryan’s entire scampaign is propelled by a small dollar grift and absolutely shameless lying. After 20 years in Congress, Ryan has nothing to show for himself but negativity, deceit and a book about yoga that nobody read.”
Vance campaign spokesperson Luke Schroeder called the ad a “bottom of the gutter political hit job.”
“JD’s own mother suffered from opioid addiction, and it’s disgusting that Tim Ryan is attempting to weaponize the issue against him,” Schroeder added.
Vance chronicled his family’s battles with drug addiction in his bestselling memoir-turned-film and has vowed to prioritize the issue if elected. His first ad during the GOP primary focused on illegal drugs coming across the border and contributing to deaths in Ohio, though it was remembered mainly for Vance’s opening line: “Are you a racist? Do you hate Mexicans?”
“So I guess I just see it as a multidimensional problem, because it is, and I don’t just see this as a death statistic,” he said in a recent interview with Richland Source, a news outlet in Mansfield, Ohio. “For every one person who’s died of a fentanyl overdose, there are 30 people behind them that are affected by it.”
Vance also acknowledged the criticism surrounding Our Ohio Renewal, attributing the nonprofit’s struggles in part to its executive director being diagnosed with stage four cancer and unable to run day-to-day operations.
“What Tim Ryan doesn’t say in his attack ads is the person that I hired to become the executive director of the nonprofit was 33 years old and got stage four cancer,” Vance said in the Richland Source interview. “Now, of course … that’s a problem. That happened, that was unexpected. And we probably could have better planned for those unplanned circumstances.”
Ohio’s Senate race to succeed Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, leans Republican, according to The Cook Political Report. But Ryan has outraised and outspent Vance and caught attention with a message he’s directed toward moderate Republican and independent voters.
Former President Donald Trump, whose endorsement of Vance helped lift him out of the May primary, announced Tuesday that he will rally with the GOP nominee Sept. 17 in Youngstown — in the heart of Ryan’s congressional district.