Both candidates avoided directly answering most of the questions.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The two gubernatorial candidates tried to paint each other as extremists during their first debate while speaking about their key platforms in somewhat vague terms.
Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Ohio secretary of state, repeatedly stated that U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, his Democratic opponent, was a tax-and-spend liberal.
Blackwell said Strickland has repeatedly voted for tax increases and against tax decreases during his nearly 12 years in Congress.
With that history, tax increases are the only way Strickland will raise money to fund his Turnaround Ohio plan, Blackwell said.
Strickland said over and over that tax increases are not part of his plan. Also, Strickland said the tax increases he opposed are those given to millionaires.
"Mr. Blackwell is distorting my record," he said. "He's blowing hot air."
Strickland said he would reallocate state funds, streamline government, use federal dollars allocated to Ohio that are not being spent and "end the corruption tax."
The "corruption tax" is money paid to the Republican-led state government by those who are friendly or contribute money to GOP officials, Strickland said.
Strickland said Blackwell is an extremist who is not fit to govern the state.
Among Blackwell's major platforms is the leasing of the Ohio Turnpike, something he says will bring in $4 billion to $6 billion. Strickland said there is no proof the lease would raise that money, and no guarantee that tolls on the road wouldn't be significantly increased.
Blackwell said his plan is not a gimmick, a word used by Strickland to describe it.
This is the first of four debates between the two major party candidates. The event was presented by The Vindicator; Vindy.com, its online edition; and WFMJ-TV 21. The event was held in the NBC affiliate's studio with each candidate allowing eight people and their spouses to sit in the studio.
The Vindicator was the only media outlet, not including the panelists and moderator, to have a reporter in the studio.
Few direct answers
The panelists asked 13 questions of the two major party candidates. Strickland, of Lisbon, and Blackwell, of Cincinnati, avoided directly answering many of the questions.
In a question about what the state could do to help the economically challenged Mahoning Valley, Blackwell talked about a plan to help the entire state through changing the state tax code, updating environmental regulations and tort reform.
Blackwell didn't pass up many opportunities to paint Strickland as someone who would raise taxes.
"Look at his record, and don't read his lips," Blackwell said of Strickland. The latter portion of that statement is from former President George H.W. Bush about not raising taxes, something he did.
"Just because my opponent says something doesn't make it true," Strickland said. "I'm a common-sense practical congressman. That's why I'm getting support from thousands of Republicans."
Strickland also said Blackwell is a "flip-flopper" -- pointing out that he once favored making Ohio a right-to-work state, and that one of his main platforms in the primary was a constitutional amendment to limit government spending.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly voted earlier this year on a scaled-down spending bill. As for right-to-work, Blackwell still supports the plan but said he can't get the assembly to agree with him on the issue.