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Trump holds rally in Youngston, Ohio as the race to the Senate heats up

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

J.D. Vance, the author of "Hillbilly Elegy," will be a guest speaker at a rally tonight with Donald Trump in Youngstown, Ohio. Mr. Vance is the Republican nominee in a surprisingly close Ohio Senate race against Democratic Representative Tim Ryan. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben recently returned from Ohio. Danielle, thanks so much for being with us.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Of course.

SIMON: And how much does the Trump endorsement help J.D. Vance?

KURTZLEBEN: This is a state where Trump is relatively popular. He won it by about eight points in 2020. Plus, Trump rallies get attention, and there are quite a few undecided voters in this race, around 10%, maybe more, polls signal. So this could introduce Vance to a whole group of new people. Now, that said, not everyone loves Trump, which is maybe the understatement of the year. So it is a question of whether Trump will help Vance among independents. That's not clear yet.

SIMON: What's the significance of the rally being in Youngstown?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, a couple of things. One, of course, is that Youngstown is in the heart of the district that Tim Ryan represents in Ohio. Also, Youngstown is a place very much hurt by deindustrialization. It still does have a significant manufacturing presence, though. So there's probably going to be a lot of the blue-collar voters who Trump has very much tried to appeal to and that Vance is trying to appeal to as well.

SIMON: You've been talking to voters. What's their feeling about J.D. Vance, first time on the ballot?

KURTZLEBEN: So I went out and followed Vance around a bit one day last weekend. And when I talked to voters who seemed to like him about what they like about him, often they would talk to me about inflation and feeling like the country's on the wrong track, about disliking Joe Biden. In other words, a lot of these voters have a pretty negative side to their vote, that they're voting against Tim Ryan, against Democrats, against Joe Biden. Now, a vote is a vote, and that's great for J.D. Vance, any of those votes. But it does suggest that what could help Vance is voters getting to know him better and him being able to energize them, which, you know, could help him with turnout. I asked Vance about this while he was out on the trail, and here's how he said he's going to stand out to Ohio voters.

J D VANCE: So I just think you make the argument that I can serve people better than the opponent can. And I can actually get some things done that are going to make the country a little bit safer and a little bit more prosperous.

KURTZLEBEN: In addition, I did talk to a few voters who just aren't paying a lot of attention. They don't know either candidate. And so that suggests that there's also just a fair amount of people up for grabs that he could or Tim Ryan could really still get.

SIMON: Why is the race close at all? Because Ohio's been pretty reliably Republican in the last few presidential elections.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. That is the question right now. There's still considered a slight advantage for Vance, but it is definitely too close for comfort among Republicans. And there are some basics to what's going on here. Vance had badly lagged Ryan in fundraising early on. Of course, also, a lot of Democrats are very, very energized by the overturning of Roe. There is some data showing a bump in women's voter registration there. I also spent time on the campaign trail with Tim Ryan, and he said he has seen that energy out at campaign events.

TIM RYAN: It's been incredible, the voter registration numbers that we're seeing here in Ohio. I think it's over 90,000 since the Dobbs decision. It's going to have a huge impact on the race.

KURTZLEBEN: Now, beyond that, it depends who you ask. If you ask Dem-leaning people, it's that J.D. Vance is out of touch. He's inauthentic. He used to dislike Trump, but now he's embracing Trump. Also this rally is being held during an Ohio State football game, which some Vance opponents are saying is a clear sign that he's out of touch. Now, there are even some Republicans in the state who have said that Vance hasn't run a smart campaign, that he just hasn't been out and about enough. So he still has about two months to get out there and campaign more. The question is if he can do that and if voters like what they see.

SIMON: NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, thanks so much.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.