Ohio Democratic governor candidates spar in fourth debate
Ohio Democratic governor candidates spar in fourth debate
TOLEDO, Ohio – It took several months and a few debates, but the Democratic candidates for governor finally delivered something that’s been sorely lacking in the race – an actual debate.
The candidates mostly did what they needed to do. Former federal consumer watchdog Richard Cordray staved off attacks from the other candidates. Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich expounded on the differences between him and Cordray. State Sen. Joe Schiavoni and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill made a splash to raise their profiles.
It was a stark contrast to the first three debates, which were staid and lacked any kind of differentiation between an almost entirely different slate, save for Schiavoni.
And through the 90-minute forum at Bowsher High School in Toledo on Wednesday, the candidates actually discussed policy while still throwing jabs.
WTOL Channel 11 in Toledo handled the production. WTOL’s Jerry Anderson moderated while a panel of WTOL’s Viviana Hurtado and Tim Miller and the Toledo Blade’s Wynne Everett served as a questioning panel.
As expected, Cordray – often considered the frontrunner in the race – was the target of attacks almost instantly.
Schiavoni started off by saying the establishment politicians – Cordray, Kucinich and O’Neill – had failed the Democratic Party and given state control to the Republicans.
But it was O’Neill who aimed the harshest attacks at Cordray.
During a question to Cordray about whether he was beholden to special interests because of the $200,000 he received in two months from lobbyists and lawyers, Cordray said he’d never taken a position because of special interests or lobbying groups.
O’Neill responded by saying the Ohio Democratic Party was in the tank for Cordray and he was obviously influenced by special interest groups like the National Rifle Association.
“You are Prince Richard of the Ohio Democratic Party,” O’Neill said. “They have funneled that money to you. They’ve done it their whole life. You got an A rating from the NRA. It is duplicitous for you to suggest you can take money from bankers and turn the other way.”
Cordray has had to combat the notion that he is the anointed candidate, especially after three candidates who had been in the race dropped out upon his entrance, including his now-running mate, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton.
But part of the reason Cordray is often considered the preferred candidate is because he is simply the most well known. Candidates with higher name recognition tend to draw more donations and support than upstart or unknown candidates, a fact Cordray pointed to.
“It’s been said tonight that I’m Prince Richard,” Cordray said. “I would prefer to be known as Richard the Lionhearted. I have been building name recognition for over 20 years.”
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said the idea that the party had steered money to Cordray was ridiculous.
“I won’t criticize individual candidates for whatever they said, but I think anyone watching can see we’re committed to an open, transparent primary process,” Pepper said. “This is a debate we put together. It’s ironic that someone on the debate stage that we invited to the debate stage that we put together would suggest that somehow things weren’t fair.”
Kucinich defends meeting with Bashar al Assad
One of the main criticisms against Kucinich is the fact that in 2017 he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a ruthless dictator who has used chemical weapons on his own people during the Syrian civil war.
Kucinich defended the meeting and said he was trying to work toward a peaceful resolution to the war – and to keep American soldiers out of possibly having to enter combat in Syria.
“I think that if you want to work for peace in the world, you have to be ready to meet with anyone,” Kucinich said. “You have to be ready to march into hell for a heavenly cause.”
Schiavoni responded by saying Kucinich should not be meeting with a strongman who is poisoning children. The Cordray campaign immediately sent out a video of Kucinich on Fox News – where Kucinich used to be a contributor – saying he was skeptical Assad used chemical weapons during an attack in April 2017. Multiple governments and a United Nations committee blamed Assad for the attack.
During an interview with reporters following the debate, Kucinich grew testy when asked about his decision to meet with Assad.
“We’re talking about an election in Ohio,” Kucinich said to a reporter asking about the Fox News clip. “What’s your issue here?”
O’Neill’s sexually charged Facebook posts
Wednesday was proof-positive that O’Neill likely won’t be able to escape a Facebook post he made in November describing past sexual encounters with 50 women.
O’Neill’s post was widely seen as offensive and out of touch given the current political climate regarding sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement of women exposing sexual harassment has been a key issue in multiple walks of life, including politics, entertainment and media.
“I look at that – it was a moment of anger,” O’Neill said when asked about the post. “I lashed out. I shouldn’t have done it. As an old guy, I learned a lot about the internet that day. I immediately apologized.”
Cordray called O’Neill’s post “disgusting and inexcusable.”
“We need to fix these problems so that women, like men, can go into the workplace and give their best and not be held back by Neanderthal harassing practices,” he said.
O’Neill, a frequent party critic, also criticized the AFL-CIO – one of the Democratic Party’s major backers – to resounding boos from the audience.
Schiavoni’s youth movement
Schiavoni hasn’t been shy about saying he is playing the youth card this election. At 38, he is by far the youngest candidate running for governor.
As part of that plan, he pointed out that the longtime Democratic politicians in the state had failed at acquiring any modicum of power. Republicans control all three branches of government, including every executive office and supermajorities in the House and Senate.
“The establishment Democrats haven’t been able to win,” Schiavoni said. “On this stage, the three candidates other than me have a combined 100 years of political experience.”
Polling hasn’t shown that message catching on just yet – though Schiavoni also said he did not care about name ID in polls.
But Schiavoni said he felt like he had a solid performance.
“These guys have run for so many positions and people are sick of the same old stuff,” Schiavoni said. “When I walked out in the crowd afterward, that message resonated.”
Gun control continues to be a tough subject for some of the Democrats to approach, especially given that the base is hungry for some kind of gun control measures after a series of mass shootings in recent years.
O’Neill said there should be a registry for AR-15s, the assault-style weapon that has been used in multiple mass shootings.
Schiavoni said the gun show loophole – where private parties such as at gun shows do not have to perform a background check during a sale – needed to be closed.
Kucinich called for a statewide assault weapons ban and criticized Cordray for his past stance on guns.
“Cleveland had an assault ban, but that assault ban was overturned through the actions of Mr. Cordray, and that’s a big issue in this election,” Kucinich said. “We must ban assault weapons.”
Cordray was attorney general when the assault ban in Cleveland was overturned, a decision he praised at the time.
The Kucinich campaign has tried to make Cordray’s background with firearms – which includes the aforementioned “A” rating from the NRA – a key issue, including releasing a video from 2010 where Cordray said gun ownership was a god-given right at a rally in front of the Statehouse.
“It’s not my way to demonize people, but everybody on this stage has recognized that in the wake of the shootings at Parkland, we have to tighten our gun laws,” Cordray said on the debate stage when asked about gun control. “We have different approaches that we put forward to it, but we have to tighten our gun laws and keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, domestic abusers ... We have to do practical, concrete things we can do right now to save lives.”
Cordray refused to take questions after the debate, bypassing the press room altogether. Campaign spokesman Mike Gwin said Cordray had been consistent in his approach and supported universal background checks and banning bump stocks and high capacity magazines.
Gwin also said Cordray had never been funded by the NRA, but wouldn’t say whether Cordray would repudiate the organization or if he was proud of his previous “A” rating.
“I think voters don’t care about videos from 10 years ago,” Gwin said. “They want a candidate who is going to look forward and provide real concrete solutions that are going to save lives.”
Watch the debate: