Tim Ryan heads into the first Democratic primary debate lagging in the polls and garnering less media attention than the leading candidates.
In a field of 23 candidates often eager to tout their leftward shift, Ryan has arguably shown a penchant for more moderate policies, perhaps a testament to his Midwest roots.
Ryan will participate in Wednesday’s debate, sharing the stage with nine other candidates, including Beto O’Rourke, Bill de Blasio, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren.
“I think the angle he’s taking as a non-elite, a relatable person as far as life experience goes, I think that’s probably Tim Ryan’s biggest advantage,” said Lauren A. Wright, a lecturer in politics and public affairs at Princeton University. “I think the moderate policy positions will pay off if he can stay in the race long enough.”
Voters elected Ryan to Congress in 2002, and after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, Ryan mounted an unsuccessful challenge to replace California’s Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader.
“Ryan likely does not have much of a chance to win the nomination, but then again, nobody thought this about Pete Buttigieg when he announced, either,” said Rob Boatright, a political science professor at Clark University.
“Ryan is an interesting character – he has policy chops and a few interesting quirks that would make him somewhat interesting to liberals,” Boatright added. “At the same time, he has tried to project the sort of Midwestern authenticity that his home state senator Sherrod Brown has established.”
When it comes to the debate, Ryan’s most significant opportunity to seize is garnering some attention, which can, in turn, lead to more campaign donations.
“Instead of fine-tuning and honing policy platform right now, Ryan should just try to get as much attention as he possibly can, try to get the name recognition up, try to get the favorability up and then, later, put more focus on what’s he’s actually going to do when in office,” Wright said.
“If we know anything about voters, and it does extend to primary voters, they have very short-term memories,” Wright added. “Even when candidates flip-flop, we don’t always hold them accountable. We just really at this stage need to know the person, and if we can associate them with something positive, whether it’s policy or personality, either thing is fine as long as they’re getting themselves to the forefront of voters’ minds.”
Ryan has indicated the closure of a General Motors plant in Lordstown spurred him to seek the nomination. The plant’s closure is a pain point for many and could provide him with a window to appeal to the state’s blue-collar base.
“We have a perception problem with the party,” USA Today quoted Ryan as saying when asked whether the Democratic Party has a problem with working-class voters. “We are perceived as being a coastal elite, Ivy League party that does not connect to working-class people. The waitress, the teacher, the construction worker, we’ve lost our connection to them.”
Ryan can use the debate as a platform to continue that message.
“Ryan will likely try to make the case that he can reach out to working-class voters in the Midwest in a way that many of the more prominent candidates cannot, and he also has a track record of leading opposition to Nancy Pelosi’s speakership,” Boatright said.
“Ultimately he probably does not have the name recognition or stature to make much headway in the primaries, and the primary calendar doesn’t work in his favor,” Boatright added. “If he does make any waves during the primary, however, it may help him in further establishing himself as a center of power within the House or in positioning him for a statewide run in Ohio in the future.”