Door To Door: Ohio’s U.S. Senate candidates take the debate stage

U.S. Senate Democratic candidates Morgan Harper, left, and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), right, shake hands at the end of Ohio’s U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Debate at Central State University.
U.S. Senate Democratic candidates Morgan Harper, left, and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), right, shake hands at the end of Ohio’s U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Debate at Central State University. [Joshua A. Bickel / Ohio Debate Commission]

Analysis

You could be forgiven if, as the Democratic Senate candidates kicked off their debate yesterday, you realized that you'd momentarily forgotten there were Democrats running at all.

That’s because the Republicans have commanded the attention as they’ve tussled for support from thousands of Ohioans and one Floridian.

The Mar-a-Lago primary is up in the air; former President Donald Trump has not anointed any of Ohio’s GOP contenders. That’s perhaps one reason so many candidates have donned the MAGA hat – figuratively, at least – in TV ads and campaign stops, as ably chronicled recently by NPR's Don Gonyea.

Politically, of course, it makes perfect sense that most GOP candidates would cast themselves in a senate-race season of “The Apprentice.” Trump won Ohio twice, and by a healthy margin.

Our Karen Kasler moderated Monday night’s showdown between the seven Republican hopefuls. It fell to her to carry out the thankless task of throwing cold water on the still-simmering false claim that widespread voter fraud cost Trump the 2020 election.

The debate did not feature a repeat of Mike Gibbons’ recent nose-to-nose confrontation with Josh Mandel. When Kasler asked about the “slugfest” nature of the primary, Gibbons replied, “I want to point out to you it did not become a slugfest. There were no punches thrown.”

There’s still time.

Back to the Democratic debate. Morgan Harper, a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau attorney who is mounting a left-lane challenge to Rep. Tim Ryan, kept the Niles congressman on the defensive.

She criticized him, for instance, for accepting campaign contributions from the political action committee of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the red-state Democrat who stood athwart President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better spending bill.

Ryan replied that he welcomed the support of anyone who wanted to back him. Meanwhile, the congressman largely stuck to his core message: that he’ll fight for workers and against China.

He no doubt had the general election in mind. The polling winds are blowing against Biden, and historical precedent sets up the Democrats to lose their slipping grip on Congress. Calling China the foe of Ohio manufacturing is a charge heard from both sides of the aisle.

Perhaps channeling the populism of his old boss, the late Rep. Jim Traficant, is Ryan’s only shot at getting this reddening state to beam him up to the U.S. Senate. That’s at least the bet he seems to be making.

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