Preview of US Senate Races in Ohio and Iowa

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #40 | By: Ian Milden | July 21, 2022

Header photo taken from: Dayton Daily News




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Iowa Senate race ‘winnable,’ new Mike Franken campaign chief claims, prior to Franken clenching the democractic party nomination in facing 8-term incumbent Chuck Grassley.

Photo taken from: PBS News Hour

Policy Summary

Control of the U.S. Senate will be up for grabs in the 2022 mid-term elections. Competitive races in key states will determine the balance of power. In this brief, I will preview the US Senate races in Ohio and Iowa.

Policy Analysis

In Ohio, there is a vacant seat due to the surprise retirement of Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). Democrats nominated Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), who has represented the Youngstown area in Congress since 2003. Congressman Ryan briefly ran for President in 2020 but dropped out before any state had a primary election.

 Congressman Ryan hasn’t previously run for statewide office in Ohio though he has publicly signaled interest in the past before running for re-election. He can’t run in his current district because Ohio lost U.S. House seats in the reapportionment of seats, and Republicans in the state legislature chose to dismember Ryan’s district.

Republicans nominated J.D. Vance. Vance is best known for writing a book called Hillbilly Elegy, which is a political manifesto with some offensive stereotypes that he made acceptable to a broader audience by including sections that would fit in a compelling personal memoir. Vance used the book to build a public profile and get interviewed on television news shows. 

He criticized Trump early in his administration while trying to sell policy solutions that were similar to those sold by other populist conservatives. He has since changed his style of presentation to resemble Trump’s style, which got him Trump’s endorsement just before the primary election. Vance has not run for public office before though he did briefly work for Republicans in the Ohio State legislature.

Nobody has conducted a poll of the Ohio Senate race for the public since the beginning of June. Those surveys found that the race was within the margin of error. A few weeks ago, Ryan’s campaign released the topline numbers of their internal polling data (which tends to be a campaign’s rosiest assessment of the race), which also showed a margin of error race.

There’s not much that I can pull from the public polling data. The Suffolk University Poll released on June 1st found that J.D. Vance was better known among the Ohio voters surveyed, and his net favorability was negative four. It’s unclear based on the released data whether this is being driven by Democrats or Republicans skeptical of his past criticisms of Trump.

Ohio has become a tougher state for Democrats to win due to changes in voter behavior. While Democrats have increased their margins in the major urban areas, they have increasingly struggled in rural counties and blue-collar towns like the Youngstown area. 

The large losses in rural areas and small towns are difficult for Democrats to overcome. If Congressman Ryan is going to win this fall, he will need to turn out traditional members of the Democratic voting coalition, while retaining enough support from his Youngstown area base and other blue-collar towns. The demographics of Ohio’s electorate do not leave him with much margin for error.

J.D. Vance tests Donald Trump’s influence in Ohio Senate primary. Now the nominee, will Vance be able to ride this wave to victory in November?

Photo taken from: AP / Aaron Doster 

In Iowa, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is running for an 8th term. He is widely respected in the state of Iowa for his visits to every county in Iowa every year and his attendance record for Senate floor votes, which has consistently been among the best in the U.S. Senate. Grassley is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which means that he would be the Chairman if Republicans win a majority in the U.S. Senate.

The Democrats nominated retired navy admiral Mike Franken to challenge Grassley. He previously ran for the Democratic nomination for US Senate in 2020, losing to the DSCC-supported Theresa Greenfield. The DSCC elected to stay out of the primary this year, and Franken defeated former Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (D-IA).

Despite having a good candidate, the U.S. Senate race in Iowa is going to be a very difficult race for Democrats to win. Nobody has come close to defeating Chuck Grassley when he has run for re-election. Additionally, the same trends in voter behavior that I discussed in Ohio’s Senate race are also occurring in Iowa. Democrats in recent years have struggled with getting support from white rural voters and voters who work in blue-collar jobs. The President’s party tends to struggle in midterm elections and when there are significant economic problems.

A recent poll from Selzer and Company, which has a very good reputation in Iowa, found that Grassley was leading by 8 and within the margin of error of a majority. Franken had a small lead with unaffiliated voters, but Grassley registered some support from self-identified Democrats. Given this data and the dynamics I discussed in the previous paragraph, this doesn’t seem like a race that Democrats are likely to win unless something substantially changes the race between now and late October.

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Running for an eighth term, Chuck Grassley (88), who first secured his senate seat in 1980, is the oldest Republican serving in the upper chamber of the U.S. Congress.

Photo taken from: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

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Tim Ryan’s Campaign Website

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Mike Franken’s Campaign Website


DSCC – Official Campaign Arm of Senate Democrats


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