LEBANON, Ohio — J.D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” and a venture capitalist, is one of six serious GOP candidates running for the U.S. Senate seat Rob Portman is retiring from this year.

Last week, Spectrum News followed Vance on the trail in Southwest Ohio to see, in-person, how he’s hoping Republican voters can look past his old criticisms of Donald Trump and embrace the Trumpian Senate campaign he’s now selling.

Before a town hall in Lebanon last weekend, Spectrum News Washington Bureau Reporter Taylor Popielarz spoke with Vance to gauge where he stands on various policy issues.

You can watch their full, unedited conversation or read the full transcript below:

Transcript from Jan. 15, 2022 interview:

Taylor: First some policy questions. Obviously people could check out your campaign website, but what are three policies that you're advocating for that would positively impact Ohioans directly?

J.D.: Yeah. So number one, I talk a lot about the fact that we've discarded our manufacturing base to countries that hate us. I think we have to impose tariffs on companies that do business in China so that we can bring back some of our industrial base. Number two, I think we have a terrible immigration crisis that's a making of our own choice. We have to finish the wall. I think we have to do mandatory e-verify in the country to get that immigration crisis under control. And then the third issue is, look, if you don't have a First Amendment, you don't have a real democracy. And we have bad censorship problems in this country because of social media. I think we have to break up the big technology companies and we have to make it so that if you want to speak your mind in this country, as a U.S. citizen, you can even on modern forms of communication.

Taylor: If you were a senator, what would you advocate for for Ohio farmers?

J.D.: Yeah, I mean, it's funny, I was talking with an Ohio farmer at an event earlier. You know, one of the main problems for Ohio farmers right now is just the inputs are so expensive —fertilizer, seed, and so forth. Unless we get that under control, our farmers aren't going to be able to live a good life. So in some ways, the inflation crisis that's affecting everything is also really affecting our farmers. If we get that under control, they'll do a lot better.

Taylor: Do you believe in climate change?

J.D.: Well, that's a complicated question. I'm sure we can’t get through it the whole — I mean, certainly the climate is changing. I think the big question is, how much is man causing it? And second, if you believe that man is causing it, do you actually have a real solution to solve the issue? I always ask people who say that climate change is this apocalyptic problem we have to deal with is one, what do you feel about China? And two, what do you feel about nuclear? So often, the people who believe that climate change is going to cause an end of planet Earth, they're not serious about actually making our planet more clean, which is what nuclear and dealing with China would do.

Taylor: And what role do you think the Senate, the federal government has in dealing with climate change or fighting against certain things?

J.D.: Well, I mean, obviously, federal policy is a huge part of our environmental policy. It's the main part of our environmental policy. And so it certainly has a big role. The question is what role, right? If you really think climate change is a problem, we shouldn't be shipping a ton of electric vehicle manufacturing to China. It’s the dirtiest economy in the world. If you really think climate change is a problem, and even if you don't, we should be building more nuclear plants in this country. They're safe, they're clean, and we're not. And that's a big federal policy.

Taylor: On the pandemic, you've said publicly that you were vaccinated against COVID-19. Did you get boosted?

J.D.: I've not. No, I've not. We all got COVID in December. I didn't have any symptoms. You know, so not planning on getting boosted anytime soon. But I've been open about that. I've encouraged people — look, I do think there's evidence that if you're older, got comorbidities, good idea to get vaccinated. Makes it less likely you're going get very sick or, God forbid, die. But at the end of the day, it's a good idea for some people. I don't think it's a good idea to force on everybody, which is what we're talking about right now.

Taylor: And I know you're against mandates. You've made that very clear.

J.D.: Yeah.

Taylor: I looked up the numbers in Ohio this week. And it said within the last year, from last January to this one, 95% of the people who have died from COVID were not fully vaccinated. 

J.D.: Okay.

Taylor: What do you say to Ohioans who say, ‘I have to get my kids certain vaccines for school.’ When you were in the military, you had to get certain vaccines. The numbers speak for themselves with the COVID vaccine, why not also mandate that?

J.D.: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons. One is this vaccine is much, much newer. And two, the disease itself is much more milder than most of the population, right? Getting vaccinated, say, smallpox inoculations, which were required 200 years ago, smallpox is a much different disease than COVID. Our response to it has to be much different. But importantly, I think that reasoning with people is actually the way to deal with the pandemic. You don't force something on people that they don't want. Especially when one of the great failures of the Biden administration, something I think Biden really does have blood on his hands over, is the failure to get therapeutics out there. Like there are some therapeutics, some over the counter, that have been shown to reduce COVID death rates. We don't talk enough about those. The newer monoclonal antibodies. In Ohio, if you get a relative who's sick, it’s a desperate hours on the phone begging doctors to get monoclonal antibodies, which we know are very effective, too. We should talk more about that stuff, and I think it would raise trust in our public authorities. So much of the vaccine discourse — the conversation around vaccines causes a lot of mistrust because it's ‘you have to get this one thing.’ That's not how you treat your fellow citizens, especially when there are so many therapeutics out there.

Taylor: When it comes to the idea of having the choice to get vaccinated, what do you say to people who are pro-choice with abortion and they say, how does that same logic not apply to abortion?

J.D.:  Well, because I think with vaccines, you're talking about your own medical decisions for your own body, whereas abortion you're talking about discarding another human life, right? That to me is the big and obvious difference. Saying people should be able to make health care decisions for themselves and for their families, especially when we're talking about a very new vaccine, I think it's just a totally different thing than saying you should have the right to kill an innocent child.

Taylor: President Biden's Build Back Better Act has been stalled in the Senate. It doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime soon, and I know you're against it —

J.D.: Thank god for Joe Manchin. 

Taylor: What do you say to people who look at some of the provisions — it's a huge package — but they look at components like paid family leave, universal pre-K,  more money for elderly care, the expanded Child Tax Credit, and they say, ‘J.D., that would help me and my family, it has helped me and my family. How could you be against those?' What do you say?

J.D.: Well, first is, we can't spend money that we don't have. And right now, we're in a situation with a massive inflation crisis that you can't say, well, there are three or four good things in a piece of legislation, therefore, we should vote for the $2 trillion thing. And in particular, with some of those provisions, I actually don't think they're a good idea for Ohio families. One thing that I constantly point out is that Build Back Better gives a massive subsidy if you send your kids to childcare. But if you want to have your kids raised in the home by a mom or dad, or you want to rely on grandparents, you get nothing from Build Back Better. I actually think it's a huge mistake for federal policymakers to force one model of family care on Ohio citizens, where most people, if you look at it, they want the choice. They don't want the federal government to pay for one thing, but not for another. They want the choice.

Taylor: How do you justify being against the infrastructure bill that became law, that Sen. Rob Portman helped write, when Ohioans know that it's sending hundreds of millions of dollars to the state for things like roads and bridges?

J.D.: Well, because most of it isn't real infrastructure, right? I mean, again, this is one of these things where we can't let some good parts of a bill justify spending hundreds of billions of dollars that we don't have on bad priorities. I think a $300 billion, $400 billion infrastructure bill would have been a very good idea. Instead, we've got a $1.3 trillion bill, most of it's not going to infrastructure, some of that's going to ridiculous things like transportation equity, making sure we don't have too many male or too few female truck drivers on the road, that I think could actually make our infrastructure problems worse, not better.

Taylor: How do you think Portman has done as a senator?

J.D.: Look, I think, you know, Rob is a good senator. I think he cares about the issues. He's been a good legislator for people. I don't agree with him on everything. I certainly think that the infrastructure bill was a huge, huge mistake. But yeah, I mean, I think overall, I've agreed with him more than I disagreed with him. But I'm obviously more conservative than he is. I'm a little less cautious than he is. That's how I'd approach the job as senator for Ohio.

Taylor: Some of your opponents in this race have very explicitly pushed what Donald Trump is claiming, that the election was stolen from him. I know you've cited in our previous interview, and on the trail, concerns about fraud. Yes or no though, simply, do you feel the election was stolen?

J.D.: Yeah, I do. I mean, look, I think the fundamental problem is we had a massive effort to shift the election by very powerful people in this country. And I don't care whether you say it's rigged, whether you say it's stolen, like I'll say what I'm going to say about it. But at the end of the day, I think the stolen versus not stolen thing is a distraction from what actually happened and was it okay? And it certainly wasn't okay. I mean, the thing that I talk the most about, of course, is the $420 million Zuck [Zuckerberg] bucks. Do we really think it's okay for one of the most powerful social media companies in the world to go up and buy local boards of elections? I don't. And I think if you do, you don't want to live in a real democracy.

Taylor: Do you worry moving forward, there could be a chilling effect just on our democratic process of claiming any election was stolen or rigged? 

J.D.: Well, I mean — 

Taylor: — Especially if there's not legitimate evidence based on what we've seen thus far.

J.D.: Well, I mean, look, we’ve gone through two elections now. 2016, where fundamentally, the Democrats did not accept the legitimacy of Donald Trump and engaged in a four year process, I think, to delegitimize his election through the Russia investigation and similar things. Obviously, Republicans, a lot of us don't trust the results of the 2020 election. I think that will suggest we should go to the root cause. Certainly, it's going to have a suppressive effect on our democracy. I worry more about Zuckerberg spending $420 million than about Ohio Republicans getting pissed off about that fact.

Taylor: Just a couple more questions real quick. You obviously have a big following on social media, people see you on all your media interviews that you do. When they look at something like, I think it was back in October, the tweet you sent out about the Alec Baldwin film shooting incident. And they say, does that really — you had said, 'Dear Jack, let Trump back on, we need Alec Baldwin tweets’ — as this, you know, deadly shooting was playing out. If a voter sees that as they're plugging into this race, and they say, is that the type of rhetoric I want a US senator to have? How do you explain that?

J.D.: I'd say like, look, people may not always agree with my rhetoric, but I think unfortunately, our country's kind of a joke. And we should be able to tell jokes about it. Right? I think it's important for our politicians to have a sense of humor. I think it's important for us to be real people. Every single person that I knew was joking about what would Donald Trump say if he was on Twitter. Right? So I think the idea that we can't have somewhat offensive humor sometimes from our politicians is basically just asking us to have fake politicians all the time. That's not what I'm going to be. Maybe it turns some people off, but I think the realness turns more people on.

Taylor: Back in 2018, you had endorsed Mike DeWine for governor and you said he was “a leader with a vision and experience to lead Ohio." Do you still feel that way?

J.D.: Look, I've been very open about some of my disappointments. I know a lot of Republicans feel like this with the way we've handled coronavirus in the state of Ohio. You know, I look to a guy like Ron DeSantis, who's handled mask mandates, access to therapeutics, in a way that I think that we should follow along. Look, I've got a four and a half year old in a school right now and he still has to wear a mask. He's forced to wear a mask. Not that we have the choice, as parents, which is good, but that he's forced to for him to go to that school. I think it's a huge mistake of policymakers in Ohio and I do worry that we haven't handled the coronavirus pandemic in the right way.

Taylor: And then lastly, have you thought about if you were elected, what committees you would want to serve on?

J.D.:  Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I obviously care a lot about foreign policy, armed services, really care about just how we spend money on the military, on other things. Appropriations would be a good committee. I care about veterans issues, would love to be on the Veterans Committee. Obviously, you don't get to pick and choose, you know, you get some of what you want, and some of what you don't want. Those are a few of the things I thought would be good to spend some time on.

Taylor: Anything else you want to add? 

J.D.: Not unless you do, man.

Taylor: Thanks a lot. 

J.D.: Appreciate it. 

Taylor: Appreciate it.

End of interview..