Largely shunned by the moderators whose focus frequently went to higher-polling candidates, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan made an effort Wednesday night to bring his Midwestern politics of mindfulness and working-class activism to the Democratic debate stage.
Ryan, who is polling below 1 percent nationally according to a New York Times analysis of polling data through June 20, used what little time he had during the first debate Wednesday trying to establish himself as a legitimate candidate for the presidency.
Ryan, the author of books on mindfulness and revolutionizing the food industry to stave off chronic obesity and disease, has highlighted his ties to the Midwest in political pitches to reach rural Trump voters as well as members of the Democratic base.
“We have a perception problem with the Democratic party,” he said Wednesday. “We are not connecting to the working class people in the very states that I represent in Ohio, in the industrial Midwest. We have lost all connection.”
His antagonism toward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may have earned him some support from progressives and independents. And he has shifted positions on issues like gun control and abortion — he was once an A-rated lawmaker in the eyes of the National Rifle Association and he once opposed abortion.
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Ryan attempted to take Rep. Pelosi’s position as House leader but fell short. He again pushed his colleagues to elect someone else late last year. When that, too, failed, he announced he’d run for president on a platform of fighting for the working class in states like his native Ohio.
On Wednesday evening, Ryan brought a unique stance to gun control and overtaking the Republican-led Senate. And he made a promise to not forget the Midwestern voters who helped him represent them in Congress for nearly 20 years.
He said mental health counselors were needed at schools across the nation to prevent school shootings by addressing disillusioned students suffering from mental health illness or wellness issues.
“Seventy three percent of [school shooters] feel shamed, traumatized or bullied. We need to make sure that these kids feel connected to the school. That means a mental health counselor in every single school in the United States,” he said. “We need to start playing offense. If our kids are so traumatized they are getting a gun and going into our schools, we’re doing something wrong, too, and we need reform around trauma-based care.”
Ryan also criticized President Donald Trump for not fulfilling campaign promises to keep manufacturing and automobile jobs in areas like Youngstown, Ohio. He also took issue with the squalid conditions at a child migrant detention camp in Texas, documented by attorneys last week.
“If you go to Guantanamo Bay, there are terrorists that are held that get better healthcare than those kids that have tried to cross the border in the United States,” he said. “That needs to stop.”
On passing Democratic-approved legislation through both houses of Congress, Ryan said it would be impossible without extending the Democratic party’s reach to the rural voters of America.
“If you want to beat [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, this better be a working class party if you want to go into Kentucky and take his rear end out,” Ryan said. “And if you want to take [South Carolina Republican Sen.] Lindsey Graham out, you got to have a blue collar party that can go into the textile communities in South Carolina.”
As a progressive, he is a supporter of Medicare for All, but said he would agree to allow patients to buy into Medicare without eliminating private health insurance companies until Medicare for All could be implemented effectively.
He said he wants to “reverse” climate change by investing in clean energy domestically. On the economy, he said he supports government-funded entrepreneurship and worker protections. He wants to enact policies that protect family farms, and shift federal subsidies away from crops used in the production of highly processed food and toward smaller producers of fruits and vegetables.
The 10 candidates were not allotted time to make opening statements, and they each were given 60 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds to respond to follow-ups.
Ryan was joined on stage by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will appear on stage Thursday night with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, California Senator Kamala Harris, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, writer Marianne Williamson and businessman Andrew Yang.
“I will only promise you one thing, when I walk into that Oval Office every morning, you will not be forgotten,” Ryan said. “Your voice will be heard.”