In Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir about Mountain Dew Mouth, pharmaceuticals, and blue-collar jobs that no longer exist, J.D. Vance notes that in 1984 his grandfather cast a ballot for Ronald Reagan. He noted, “Papaw never again voted against his beloved ‘party of the workingman.’”
One gathers that four decades later, many Democrats in that region of the county again cast ballots for Papaw’s Republican grandson.
J.D. Vance defeated Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in the race for Ohio’s open U.S. Senate seat. It looked tight during the early part of the night. It took until 11:14 p.m. Eastern for Fox News to call it for Vance, who led 54 percent to 46 percent at that time.
Howard Stern, about as far from a hillbilly as anyone not named Adolphe Menjou, characterized “saving democracy” as “the only issue on the f—ing table” in the election. “I don’t know how some of these hillbillies don’t realize it.”
Hillbillies, and Ohioans who do not wear overalls and do wear shoes, chose J.D. Vance and chose to reject the theme of a fragile American republic a few votes here or there in danger of becoming a fascist regime. Kitchen-table issues, rather than Howard Stern’s “f—ing table” issues, mattered more to voters.
A victory for statewide office in Ohio, a bellwether that has picked the winner in every presidential election since 1960 (apart from in 2020), can elevate a politician into national conversations. Tim Ryan, a presidential candidate in 2020, likely hoped his seat acted as a springboard. Perhaps Vance, a political novice, harbors no such immediate aspirations.
In an age of screens and not paper, the notion of a book launching a political juggernaut, as it did Barry Goldwater more than 60 years ago, may belong on the fiction shelf. But the last politician who parlayed a book into a Senate seat became president.