By Marc Kovac
Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown called his opponent a “politician who can’t be trusted,” a political opportunist who relies on “clever, poll-tested sound bites.”
“It’s well established he can’t be trusted to show up for work and do the job that he was elected to,” Brown said, adding later, “He can’t be trusted to tell the truth. ... Everyone in this room knows that Josh Mandel can’t be trusted to fight for your job, because he’s too concerned running for his next job.”
But Mandel, the current state treasurer who hopes to unseat Brown next month, hammered on the incumbent as a longtime politician who blames others for the nation’s problems, the “bailout senator” who has been unable to pass a federal budget in years and who has not done enough to cut spending and the national debt.
“One thing I know for sure: We are not going to change Washington by sending Sherrod Brown there,” Mandel said. “He’s been there for 20 years. ... If you’re happy about high unemployment rates, Sherrod Brown’s your guy. If you’re happy about higher tuition rates for your kids, Sherrod Brown’s your guy. If you’re happy about higher health care costs and government-run health care, Sherrod Brown’s your guy.”
So continued another day in what’s become a nasty campaign battle for one of Ohio’s seats in the U.S. Senate, with Mandel and Brown facing off in the first of three debates, this one before the City Club of Cleveland.
The sold-out event included cheers and jeers from a sometimes-raucous crowd, prompting the debate moderator on multiple occasions to urge less reaction.
Questions from journalists and the audience ran the gamut from fracking regulations and the auto industry bailout to tax cuts and trade policy.
Brown and Mandel will meet in two other debates. The next is Thursday in Columbus, with a final session next week in Cincinnati.
Mandel has been asked repeatedly during the campaign whether he would have supported the federal bailout of the automobile industry, with much emphasis on plants across the state, from Defiance to Lordstown, and on the many suppliers that provide parts for vehicles.
He was asked about the issue again Monday and, specifically, whether the bailout benefited the state.
Mandel stuck to the answer he’s given to reporters and editorial boards in recent weeks, saying he would not have supported legislation that cost thousands of Delphi employees their pensions.
“I would not have voted for that,” he said. “I couldn’t have, because it stripped from middle-class retirees their pensions — these Delphi employees in the state of Ohio, 60- and 70-year-old men and women, who lost almost all their pensions. ... I could not have supported a process that stripped pensions from middle-class retirees and stripped jobs from mechanics and salesmen throughout the state of Ohio.”
But Brown countered that the auto rescue package secured jobs for thousands of Ohioans.
“Josh, do you know about the Chevy Cruze and the Chevy Eco?” he asked. “The steel and the aluminum are made right here in Cleveland. The transmission comes out of Toledo. In Defiance, they build the engines. These are real jobs and real people. ... To be against the auto rescue just boggles my mind.”
Brown also said he thought the federal stimulus package did help to improve the economy, sending billions of dollars to the state and cutting taxes for many Ohioans.
“The recovery act worked,” he said. “The unemployment rate began to come down, not as much as people hoped it would, but it began to come down. The problems were much more serious in 2008 than the administration or any economist to speak of understood.”
But Mandel said the stimulus did not work, with unemployment, gas prices, college tuition costs, health-care costs and foreclosure rates rising since Brown took office.
“With all due respect, Senator, you’ve had 20 years to try to solve these problems,” he said. “And it’s only gotten worse.”
Both candidates were asked whether they believed current federal and state regulations related to horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, were adequate to protect the environment.
Brown said he’d base his shale development-related decisions on two issues: what communities decide to permit in their areas, and whether water supplies are protected.
“I don’t buy the false choice, it’s good environment or good jobs policy,” he said.
Mandel applauded state lawmakers and the governor for energy-law changes made this year that included requirements for the disclosure of fracking fluids. “I’m a strong believer in drilling for oil and gas in a responsible way, a way that protects the air we breathe, the water we drink and the environment for our kids and grandkids,” he said.