In a sort of “Bernie vs. Biden” microcosm, the race for the Democratic nomination has centered around centrist Congressman Tim Ryan's ability to fend off a progressive challenger in Morgan Harper. Then, should he be successful in that effort, his ability to win back some of the blue collar voters that left the Democratic party entirely in 2016 and 2020.

Ryan, who was first elected to Congress in 2002 after longtime Congressman Jim Traficant went to prison, has seen his district, which includes Mahoning and Trumbull counties, go from solid blue to red with blue and purple patches over the course of his career.

While this could be seen as a weakness, since many Ryan voters defected and ended up becoming staunch Trump supporters, Ryan sees his experience as an asset.

He says economic issues will remain the primary focus of his campaign and believes that if he maintains that focus, he will be able to transcend party lines across a state that voted Republican by eight points in the last two presidential elections.

“If the average worker had an increase in their wages like a CEO had in the last 30 or 40 years, they'd be making $650,000 a year,” Ryan said.

As for concerns that Ohio has simply moved too far into Republican territory, Ryan isn't having it.

“I appreciate that but I disagree with the premise. Trump won in '16 by eight points and he won '20 by eight points and I think that the national Democratic party has not had an economic message that speaks directly to workers,” Ryan said.

He said he believes that the states that Joe Biden won in 2020, like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, were the ones he made a significant push in, focusing on “kitchen table” issues, and that he may have won Ohio had he made a significant push in the state.

Ryan believes that message will also help him fend off the challenge from Harper, although he avoided criticizing her directly. Rather, he cited his record, pointing to projects in his district during his tenure, such as the TJX distribution center and the Ultium Cells battery plant in Lordstown.

When asked by managing editor Justin Mitchell about the wave of violence that plagued the city of Youngstown throughout much of 2021, culminating in the death of a 10-year-old child due to gun violence, Ryan took great exception to the notion that he hadn't said much on the subject.

“In the wake of that shooting, community activists and the faith community have called for things like mentorship programs, they've held regular marches for peace on a weekly basis throughout the city, some mayoral candidates and your opponent, Morgan Harper, has been at one of them. Why, up to this point, have you been silent on this issue and what would you propose to do to break the cycle of violence?” Mitchell asked.

“Oh my gosh, I've been very vocal on this. Ya know, years ago, I got an earmark for Shotspotter, which is a technology that the city is still using to catch criminals who are doing these kinds of acts. While I'm a supporter of the second amendment and go hunting, I've been a supporter of making sure that guns don't get in the hands of criminals, that we have a background check. Why do these people have all these guns? I mean that's a question that we need to ask. And a lot of this gets back to the economic issues in our cities,” Ryan said.

Shotspotter is a technology that alerts police to potential gunfire and has been in use by the city of Youngstown since 2009.

“There's no magic wand and I think politicizing this is not the answer,” Ryan said.

You can listen to the entire conversation with Ryan here: