A national Democratic leader attributed the general success in the midterms to very high enthusiasm levels, and that’s true for explaining the success at winning many congressional, statehouse and gubernatorial races.

But this absolutely did not apply to Ohio, where Democratic turnout crashed and enthusiasm was extraordinarily low, even though Ohio was one of the top Senate battleground states.

As a result, the Democratic candidate for governor in Ohio lost by 25.5 points, other statewide candidates lost by large margins, and the Senate race in Ohio was lost by a larger margin (6.6 points) than in any of the top ten battleground states. The next worst performance was in North Carolina, where the Democrat lost by 3.5 points. Jim Jordan won re-election by a 38.6-point margin, even though he was in the national spotlight for potential criminality.

There is no doubt that Ohio stood out for poor performance compared to virtually all other states. Ohio Democrats ought to be asking why and holding their state party leaders accountable.

The reason for the loss is clear from the statistics – many Democrats stayed home. Axios reported that “statewide turnout declined from 55.7 percent in 2018 to a still-unofficial total of 51.1 percent this year,” and the drop was especially pronounced in all heavily Democratic cities.

This was completely contrary to the uptick in Democratic turnout, compared to 2018, in all of the other Senate battleground states. Indeed, national Democratic Party strategists have attributed the general success for Democrats in winning contested congressional seats and statehouse progress to “intensity” and “enthusiasm” among Democratic voters, fueled by the Dobbs decision and the “threat to democracy.”

So why was Ohio different?

The explanation is not hard to find and can be pinpointed in one man: Tim Ryan, who has a reputation as a political chameleon, though the pundits seldom mentioned it.

He changes color according to his careerist interests, to a greater degree than your average politician. Not everyone in Ohio forgets that Tim Ryan entered politics as a staffer for Congressman James Traficant, Jr., when Traficant was convicted in 2002 on ten felony counts of bribery, racketeering, and other corruption charges.

Ryan entered Congress as Traficant’s successor, and for his first twelve years in Congress, he was what they called a blue-dog Democrat. He staunchly opposed abortion rights, was a darling of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and he battled environmentalists on behalf of the coal and oil industries.

I first encountered Tim Ryan as an environmental activist – he was on the other side. Ryan had a miraculous flip-flop on all of these issues simultaneously in 2015. The reason for his astounding enlightenment quickly became clear: He was preparing to challenge Nancy Pelosi for House leadership, which he proceeded to do twice, in 2016 and 2018.

Though Ryan ran against Pelosi as a “conservative Democrat” and constantly accused Pelosi of being a “San Francisco liberal” (a foreshadowing of the 2022 Senate race), Ryan was smart enough to know that he could not win with the House Democratic caucus unless he changed his positions on abortion, guns, and coal. So, he changed positions, and lost big to Pelosi anyway.

After Trump was elected, Tim Ryan became Trump’s biggest supporter in the Democratic Party, arguing that Democrats could work with Trump and defended Trump’s punitive trade-war tariffs on China. This despite warnings from American manufacturers that the tariffs were driving up costs of steel for the production of things like automobiles, which was done at the enormous Lordstown GM plant in Ryan’s congressional district.

After repeated warnings from GM, Ryan refused to budge on his support for the Trump tariffs, and this likely precipitated GM’s decision to shut down the plant in 2019, costing many thousands of jobs. Ryan was spared being reminded of this in Vance attack ads only because Donald Trump shared the blame with Tim Ryan. Vance did bring it up in one of the two debates. In the election, Ryan lost to Vance by 7 points in Trumbull County, where Lordstown is located, even though the county has been in Ryan’s congressional district for twenty years

Then Tim Ryan decided to run for President of the United States. Now he had to appeal to voters in delegate-rich California and New York, so Ryan underwent a second makeover, actually advertising himself as a New Age meditation guru. The project to repackage Ryan as “The Mindful Politician” was launched suspiciously in 2019, just in time to spring into the consciousness of Marin County yoga instructors for the 2020 California primary. You can still smell the sandalwood.

When Tim Ryan decided to run for Senator from Ohio he was very consistent: Tim Ryan’s unmindful approach to politics is to target the type of voter he thinks he must win over, and then make himself over into a simulacrum of that voter. For the Senate race, Ryan decided that the only voter that matters is the male MAGA-hatted Trump-voting troglodyte, and so every single Ryan TV ad during the seemingly-interminable campaign was pitched at that one kind of voter, and nearly every ad included some bashing of prominent Democrats, whom Ryan made clear he loathed.

The most frequently aired ad featured Tim Ryan, dressed to look like he was still doing farm work for Traficant, loading a shotgun and firing it at a target labeled “Defund the Police,” mimicking the many Republican ads that depicted gun violence against the Squad. Another short ad aimed at offending Ohio environmentalists showed an oil worker next to a drilling rig (in Texas maybe?), declaring simply that “Tim Ryan supports the oil and gas industry.” Totally gone was any reference to the mindful meditation guru. Ryan was now a Miller-Lite pipeline-pushin’ good-ole’ boy.

One young Asian Democratic woman from Cincinnati says: “I didn’t see a single compelling Ryan ad once. That goofy sports ad with Bernie Kosar [a 1983 Ohio football star] was the dumbest one of all. I still voted for him, but it was akin to wiping my ass with a cheese grater.” According to the turnout statistics, many Democrats opted against the cheese grater. Ohio low-turnout mystery solved.

Could Tim Ryan really be counted on to defend a woman’s right to choose, to vote for gun control, or to fight the companies responsible for climate change? No one with a working memory could enthusiastically think so.

And now it is time to talk about this because the results were so disastrous.

Tim Ryan’s dominant campaign strategy was to ignore and insult Democratic base voters. The strategy here, if it can be called a strategy, was to sacrifice all other demographics to win the white male working-class vote. But it didn’t succeed even at that.

NBC News exit polls show that Ohio men went for Vance by 58 percent to 41 percent. This is a more radical gender split than in other states. For example, in Arizona, Mark Kelly lost the male vote by only 4 points, 50 percent-46 percent. With that kind of split among men, despite Tim Ryan championing beer on camera like a Kavanaugh, the women’s vote doesn’t really matter, unless women would show a reciprocal split, which in Ohio, they did not.

The same can be seen in the racial split. In Arizona, Kelly actually won the white vote, 49 percent to 48 percent. In Ohio, however, though Ryan aimed to win over whites with his anti-China pitches and whitebread-with-mayonnaise posturing, he lost the white vote, 59 percent-40 percent, an even worse split than among men. A large part of the explanation is that in Ohio, women and progressives of all colors largely decided to stay home.

Yet despite Tim Ryan’s anti-Democrat campaign, the Ohio Democratic Party kept steering money to the Ryan campaign, while stiffing all other campaigns, as near as I can tell.

Politics 101: To win, you have to do two things – build and motivate your base and win over the middle. Dispensing with the first is not an option. Tim Ryan proved that, and he forever should be shunned by the Democratic Party.

Geoffrey Sea is a historian, writer, and progressive activist living in Portsmouth, Ohio. He served as a Biden delegate from southern Ohio to the 2020 Democratic National Convention. He first got involved in politics campaigning for Mo Udall in 1976. Reach him at