In Tim Ryan’s Ohio Senate Race, the D Is Often Silent

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tim Ryan is the kind of candidate who appears to put some thought into appearing to put no thought into appearances.

His daily uniform exudes well-practiced campaign casual: an Ohio State hoodie on game day; a T-shirt from Dropkick Murphys, the union-minded Celtic punk band, for a recent speech at an A.F.L.-C.I.O. gathering, where he took the stage to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”; untied white Nikes for a canvass kickoff in the capital, laced tastefully days later for a condolence visit to a Toledo union hall.

His stump speech is a hits reel befitting an eastern Ohio congressman, as if culled from the down-home liner notes of a Springsteen track about the industrial Midwest.

“My grandfather was a steelworker…”

“I’m campaigning for the exhausted majority…”

“Star of the high school football team…”

“O-H!” (I-O.)

Most political races are about authenticity on some level: who tries too hard, who doesn’t try hard enough, who can read the electorate without staring. Mr. Ryan, 49, has made Ohio perhaps the country’s unlikeliest Senate battleground by taking this premise to its logical extreme.

He is seeking to depict his Republican opponent, J.D. Vance, the author and venture capitalist made famous by a memoir of life in Appalachia, as something of a political fabulist — a playacting fraud (“Uncomfortable in Flannel,” the text flashes in one attack ad) who opposed Donald J. Trump before he supported him. He is trying to make the contest about whose public persona is closer to the truth, and closer to Ohio’s — often eliding his own political calibrations through the years as a former abortion opponent who once earned an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.

Mr. Ryan is, if polls are to be believed even a little, in contention in a state that Mr. Trump twice carried by eight points and Democrats had effectively written off, complicating Republican plans to flip the chamber. The Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC closely aligned with Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, grew concerned enough over the summer to reserve $28 million in television and radio ads to prop up Mr. Vance, who has raised far less money than Mr. Ryan on his own. A spokesman for the super PAC said it was spending notably more in only two states, Georgia and Pennsylvania, both considered tossups.

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