Good news? Depends on one’s perspective. Republicans have managed to turn Ohio more solidly red after Barack Obama’s presidency, and Donald Trump won the state by eight points in 2020. That makes this narrow lead for J.D. Vance against Tim Ryan in the new Emerson poll for the open US Senate seat a bit too close for comfort.
But it beats the alternative:
The first Emerson College Polling survey of the November US Senate Election in Ohio finds Republican nominee JD Vance with 45%, over his Democratic opponent Tim Ryan at 42%. Four percent plan to vote for someone else and 10% are undecided.
Spencer Kimball, Executive Director of Emerson College polling said, “A gender divide exists in the race for US Senate; women voters support Ryan over Vance, and male voters support Vance over Ryan. That said, male voters break at a more significant 20-point margin for Vance, whereas women voters break for Ryan by a 15-point margin.”
Kimball continued, “Both Vance and Ryan have strong bases of support, and the race tightens to a one-point lead for Vance among the very motivated and very likely voters in Ohio, whereas Vance leads by a larger margin among somewhat likely and somewhat motivated voters.”
That looks even closer when compared to the gubernatorial race at the top of the ticket. Incumbent Mike DeWine is sailing past Democrat Nan Whaley by 16 points, 49/33. And considering the same poll shows that Joe Biden has a 39/56 job approval rating, Republicans may wonder why Vance isn’t getting more lift in this race.
It’s not that Ohio voters have a different set of priorities that the GOP may be missing in its messaging. Fifty percent of voters select economic issues as their top priority in the election, with “abortion access” trailing far behind in second place at 12%. That data makes another part of Emerson’s analysis look a bit off, however:
“Voters who are most concerned about the economy break for Vance over Ryan by a 35-point margin. On the other hand, those who say abortion access and healthcare break for Ryan over Vance by 83 and 66-point margins,” Kimball noted.
Er … does that math look right to you? Vance is a +35 among 50% and Ryan is a +83 among 12%, and … that leads to a virtual tie? In Republican-friendly Ohio? Maybe, and Emerson’s usually pretty decent, but that looks like something’s off. Add in Vance’s +5 gender-gap cushion, and the overall number doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Jim Geraghty and Michael Brendan Dougherty remember when state polling in midterms didn’t add up in a bigger way:
With that said, a three-point lead doesn’t mean this race is locked away; Tim Ryan having the television airwaves to himself for about three months undoubtedly gave him some momentum, but that momentum may be blunted now that the Vance commercials are starting to air.
While I was away, my distinguished colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote, “I’m getting vibes of 2014, when Tom Cotton and Mark Pryor were shown to be neck-and-neck in the summer, only for Cotton to pull away and ride the fundamentals in the end to a massive 17-point victory. The same dynamic played out in Kansas and Iowa.”
Look, maybe Vance will indeed end up winning by 17 points. And yes, back in August 2014, the Tom Cotton-Mark Pryor race was still tight. But Cotton was taking on a two-term incumbent, and the fact that polls were finding Pryor in the high 30s to low 40s (one CNN poll put it him at 47 percent) was a flashing neon sign that Arkansas voters were unhappy with what they had and were looking for other options. (I’d also note that after May, only two polls showed Pryor ahead.) In an open seat race like Ohio’s this year, the dynamic is different.
The gubernatorial result at the top of this poll is different, too — a kind of control for the lab of the Senate poll. Perhaps this will be Ryan’s high-water mark after his exclusive run on television, as Jim notes, and maybe those demos will shift again, too. In the meantime, given the disparity between the results for Vance and DeWine, the GOP shouldn’t assume that they have this Senate seat in the bag. But it still beats the alternative …