February 2, 2023
Written by Ethan Mort
President Trump’s 8 point Ohio victories in 2016 and 2020 has caused recent discourse suggesting Ohio has lost its status as a swing state. The 2022 Midterms provided a mixed answer when it came to understanding the Buckeye State’s status as a state either party could win. While Democrats suffered a blowout in the gubernatorial election and an 8-point defeat in the Senate race, they managed to win all three competitive Ohio Congressional elections. Democrats defeated a 13 term Republican incumbent in the First Congressional District, held onto Tim Ryan’s former seat, and defended Marcy Kaptur in the Ninth District, which was redistricted to be more Republican. The 2022 Midterms saw record breaking political spending in Ohio's Congressional elections.
Political Spending and Messaging in OH Senate
The Ohio Senate general election pit Congressman and former 2020 Presidential candidate Tim Ryan against JD Vance. Vance was the author of Hillbilly Elegy, a book discussing what Vance views as some of the issues plaguing his community in Ohio and Appalachia as a whole. While doing press for the book, Vance sat down for an interview with NPR in which he openly criticized then President Trump. Despite this, Trump endorsed Vance in the midst of the GOP primary for the Senate race.
Overall, Ohio's Senate general election saw $106M in political spending, making it Ohio’s most expensive election to date. It even outpaced 2016 and 2020’s Presidential general election political spending in the state. Interestingly, the second most expensive election in Ohio’s history was this year’s Senate primary at $86M. In the general election, Democrats managed to outspend Republicans $57M to $49.5M. This feat is incredibly impressive considering that Senate Majority PAC did not spend a single dollar in this race—compared to their Republican counterpart, Senate Leadership Fund which spent $33M on this race.
The lack of Senate Majority PAC spending became a large storyline behind this race. Tim Ryan frequently publicly lambasted national Democrats for not spending to support his candidacy. While this help never arrived, some argued that while Ryan wasn’t able to win his own race, he helped Senate Democrats win their respective races thanks to the Senate Leadership Fund investing $33M in Ohio.
Republicans and Democrats embarked on two incredibly different messaging strategies in their ads. Vance focused on pinning Ryan to President Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and highlighted the issues of taxation and inflation. In one Vance ad, he blamed rising food prices in the state on Ryan voting lockstep with Biden and Pelosi. In an ad put out by the Senate Leadership Fund, SLF labeled Ryan as “Taxin’ Tim Ryan” and implied he voted with Biden every single time.
Democratic ads focused on attacks on Vance’s character and issues such as jobs, China, trade, and his ties to former President Trump. In one Ryan ad, he attacked Vance for investing in companies that outsourced jobs to China, his past comments on rape and domestic abuse, his Californian roots, and his endorsement from Trump. Ryan’s focus on China was continued from the primary, when he released an ad solely focused on China that attracted the ire from various Asian-American spokespeople and issue groups.
Ryan did two things in his messaging strategy that set him apart from most Democratic candidates across the country. First, Ryan never discussed the issue of abortion in any of his ads. The only advertisers in the Senate race that used the issue of abortion in their ads were Save America Fund, and the FF PAC. Abortion was the most mentioned issue in Democrats’ ads in 2022. Thirty percent of all ads put out by Democrats in 2022, mentioned abortion—making Ryan’s silence on the airwaves on the issue an outlier. Secondly, Ryan, as a Democrat, openly went against Pelosi in his ads. In one ad, Ryan reminded voters that he challenged Pelosi for the Speakership in the past and wanted to take the country in a different direction.
Ohio Congressional Districts 1, 9, and 13 were the competitive seats in Ohio this cycle. Overall, $39.7M was spent on political ads for all of Ohio’s Congressional general elections. Nearly 90% of Ohio House spending came from Districts 1, 9 and 13. According to the final 2022 Cook Political Report, Ohio CD-1 and CD-13 were both labeled as tossups while CD-9 was labeled as a lean-D. The four major House groups—House Majority PAC (HMP), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), invested a total of $25M in political spending across those three competitive elections.
In Ohio’s First District, Democrat Greg Landsman defeated 13 term incumbent Steve Chabot by 7 points. There was a total of $10.6M spent on the race, with Republican advertisers holding a $400K spending advantage. The top five mentioned issues in this election were policing, taxation, inflation, special interests, and abortion. In their ads, Republicans focused on police budgets and crime, tying those issues to Landsman’s record on the Cincinnati City Council. For example, CLF attacked Landsman's record as Cincinnati City Councilor and accused him of stripping money from the police and taxing families. Landsman responded with an ad featuring police officers accusing the CLF ad of lying and instead said that Landsman voted to add $20M to the Cincinnati police budget. In another ad, Landsman used Chabot’s incumbency against him, blaming his past votes in contributing to inflation.
Ohio’s Thirteenth District was left open by Tim Ryan as he campaigned for the state’s Senate seat. Because of this, Republicans believed this was a competitive seat and spent accordingly. OH CD-13, at $18.4M, saw the most money spent out of Ohio’s Congressional Districts. Both CLF and HMP made their biggest investments in Ohio in this district: $4.8M from CLF and $2.9M from HMP. Republicans outspent Democrats by nearly $600K. Despite this, former Ohio Statehouse minority leader Emilia Sykes would go on to defeat Republican Madison Gesiotto Gilbert by five points. The top five issues in this election were crime, abortion, taxation, criminal justice reform, and jobs. Unlike some other Ohio Democrat candidates, Sykes did not shy away from the issue of abortion, as 76% of all Democratic airings in OH CD-13 mentioned abortion.
Ohio’s 9th Congressional District saw Marcy Kaptur survive her first election in her redrawn district that turned from D+16, to R+6. Despite this 22 point swing, Kaptur comfortably won re-election by 13 points against her opponent, J.R. Majewski. Majewski attracted national controversy during the cycle after he misrepresented his military record. Following the controversy, the NRCC cut $960K from the airwaves and never supported Majewski again. Overall, there was $6.6M spent on the election, with the Democrats having a $4M spending advantage. A cause for this spending gap was Majewski having low candidate spending and no major Republican issue group support, while Kaptur had strong candidate spending and support from HMP and the DCCC. Despite her support from national Democratic groups, Kaptur frequently distanced herself from national Democratic figures and issues. She released an ad claiming President Biden was “letting Ohio Solar manufacturers be undercut by China” and boasted about her bipartisan work with former Ohio Senator Rob Portman (R). In another ad, Kaptur denounced extremism on both sides, tying Majewski to the January 6th Insurrection, and calling the Defund the Police movement “ridiculous”. Another example of Kaptur going against the 2022 Democratic messaging strategy was the lack of abortion messaging. There was not a single mention of abortion in any OH CD-09 broadcast ads. Even HMP shied away from abortion or other typical Democratic issues in this election. HMP focused on ads attacking Majewski’s character, such as in this ad where they tied Majewski to QAnon and the January 6th Insurrection.
If you're interested in reading another entry in AdImpact's 2022 Midterm Deep Dive series, check out our recently published blog about Nevada's Congressional and gubernatorial elections.