The previous Democratic gubernatorial debates have not been terribly exciting and the one held Tuesday in Middletown was no different.
Few people likely saw the debate, which could be viewed online and on a TV station in Cincinnati, and there wasn’t a full house in attendance at the event.
Also overshadowing the event was the announcement during the debate by Republican Cliff Rosenberger that he would resign as speaker of the Ohio House as the FBI investigates his activities.
Rosenberger said in a prepared statement: “I am aware of a federal inquiry being conducted regarding things I may have been involved in. First and foremost, I believe that all of my actions as speaker have been both ethical and lawful.
“However, I understand that the nature of this inquiry has the potential to be very demanding and intensive, and could take months or even years to resolve. Meanwhile, there are many important issues facing our state that deserve careful consideration and review, and Ohioans deserve elected leaders who are able to devote their full and undivided attention to these matters. I believe the institution of the Ohio House of Representatives is far more important than one person.”
The other issue with the debate was the format.
The candidates really weren’t permitted to engage one another nor did they seem eager to do so. They shared a microphone they passed among themselves and had to keep answers to about a minute each.
On stage were the four candidates: state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, ex-U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill and Richard Cordray, a former state treasurer and attorney general.
While Cordray and Kucinich are seen as the top two competitors, Schiavoni did well.
Schiavoni’s closing statement was the highlight of the event.
He said: “We need somebody different in order to lead this state, somebody that’s going to stop talking about all the things in the past, but talk about how we are going to get the Democratic base in the position where we can move forward and beat [Republican gubernatorial frontrunner] Mike DeWine, because if we can’t paint a contrast with Mike DeWine, then we don’t win. I’m the only candidate who can stand on stage with Mike DeWine and say, ‘Mike DeWine is a career politician that has only done things to benefit himself and not this state’ and not be a hypocrite when I say that.
“So I’m asking people to come with me, to help me, to build this campaign,” he added. “I’ve been traveling the state for a year and a half working on this and talking to people about what is important to them and putting together legislation and plans in order to get them done. People want somebody that is truthful, that is real and will fight for them, and all my life I’ve been doing that. As the next governor, I promise you I’ll get you down that path.”
These were strong words from Schiavoni in a debate that was largely devoid of confrontation.
The event was a missed opportunity for Cordray who could have criticized Kucinich for a variety of issues.
Cordray’s campaign sent a couple of emails to Ohio political media members during the debate “fact-checking” Kucinich for statements on the president’s infrastructure plan and gay marriage. But Cordray didn’t mention concerns he has with Kucinich’s candidacy even though he’s called the former congressman “extreme” at other events.
Cordray spoke in even tones, not getting excited about anything.
The only real criticism he had came in his closing statement in response to Schiavoni, and even that was somewhat soft.
“I can’t agree with what Joe said that anybody on this stage is a hypocrite,” Cordray said. “I think everybody on this stage means well and are putting forth plans they think will improve Ohio. One question is, are those plans practical and achievable and who has a record of real results of getting things done.”
He then pivoted to touting his experience and his plans to help small businesses, address the opioid crisis, reduce gun violence and for free community college.
“These are things that will move us into the future,” Cordray said. “That’s what I stand for. Betty Sutton [his running mate] and I will govern this state to set an example for America of how we can stand not just for some of us, but for all of us.”
While the Democratic debate wasn’t a fight among the candidates, at least the party had such forums.
The same can’t be said for Republicans with Attorney General Mike DeWine, the party’s gubernatorial frontrunner, refusing to debate his opponent, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.