Julie Carr Smyth
Julie covers government and politics from Ohio.
jcarrsmythjsmyth@ap.org

Ohio GOP candidates call US Senate race fight for America

March 29, 2022 GMT
Neil Patel, a Republican running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, speaks to reporters following a debate with other Republicans at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, Monday, March 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Neil Patel, a Republican running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, speaks to reporters following a debate with other Republicans at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, Monday, March 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Neil Patel, a Republican running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, speaks to reporters following a debate with other Republicans at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, Monday, March 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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Neil Patel, a Republican running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, speaks to reporters following a debate with other Republicans at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, Monday, March 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
1 of 17
Neil Patel, a Republican running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, speaks to reporters following a debate with other Republicans at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, Monday, March 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

WILBERFORCE, Ohio (AP) — All but one Republican seeking an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio held fast to the disproven narrative Monday that the 2020 presidential election was either stolen from Donald Trump or fraught with irregularities, fraud or other problems.

It was the contentious, Trump-focused contest’s first debate hosted by a mainstream journalist, who was tapped by the nonpartisan Ohio Debate Commission.

Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler pushed back during the 90-minute event, reminding audience members many of the claims they were hearing have been fact checked and found to be inaccurate. At times, she was loudly booed.

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Candidate Matt Dolan, a Cleveland-area state senator, was the only one of seven candidates on the stage at Central State University not to embrace the allegations.

“Let me be very clear: Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States,” he said. “My problem is he’s a failed president.”

Dolan said he still holds out hope he can garner Trump’s endorsement, which has become increasingly questionable as the May 3 primary nears.

“Because when he takes the time to look at all of us up on this stage and sees who’s actually implemented the conservative Republican ideas that he brought to Washington, I’ve done it in Ohio,” he said.

Former Ohio Republican chair Jane Timken continued to tout her work on the ground in Ohio to elect Trump — who won the state by more than 8 percentage points. That included, she said, catching a Democrat ballot harvesting, a case she referred to the state attorney general. The Ohio elections chief identified 62 potential fraud cases from 2020 to authorities, a tiny fraction of nearly 6 million votes cast.

Among author and venture capitalist JD Vance’s items of 2020 concern were the large donations that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife gave to states for election operations.

Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons said he does not believe recently discovered communications between Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and top aides to Trump are evidence of trying to inappropriately influence the 2020 election.

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“I don’t think questioning and trying to find a legal way of overturning the election is in any way treasonous, or even slightly illegal,” he said. “I think every time a lawyer goes into their office every day, they’re trying to figure out how to do something legally.”

In a race that Democrats see as one of their best chances nationally to flip a Senate seat, the Republican candidates described the contest as a fight to preserve American values that they believe are slipping, to protect U.S. security and to revive the economy.

“The Democrats are threatening the future of our country and I’m going to fight to make sure that we still have a country,” said Timken. She said Democrats will turn the U.S. into “a ditch.”

Former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel said, “Right now, what we need in Washington is to defeat the secular left, to defeat the radical left, to defeat Biden and (Senate President Chuck) Schumer and (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi and save this country for our kids and grandkids.”

Generally, though, the candidates did more attacking of the moderator than of each other Monday — oftentimes, after a near physical altercation at one debate, concurring on or complimenting one another’s answers.

After the event, Vance called the debate “pretty tame,” adding that it did not touch on a number of topics of interest to GOP primary voters.

“I worry a little bit — and it’s not about us, right, it’s about voters — when you have a Republican debate and there’s no Second Amendment question, there’s no abortion question, there’s no Big Tech question,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Democratic Senate candidates faced off in their only debate before the upcoming primary.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, of the blue-collar Mahoning Valley, vowed to fight for Ohio’s workers and put more money toward job training. Rival Morgan Harper, a progressive former consumer protection lawyer and community organizer, accused the 10-term congressman of being too cozy with corporations.

Democrats view Ohio’s open Senate seat as among their best chances to flip a seat nationally. Incumbent U.S. Sen. Rob Portman announced his retirement last year, expressing dismay over the deep partisanship and dysfunction in American politics.

Unlike the nasty GOP primary, Democrats kept their tempers in check ahead of the May 3 primary, the timing of which remains up in the air due to an ongoing redistricting battle playing out at the Statehouse and in the courts.