Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and Ohio governor decline to debate

Ohio’s Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate refused to participate in debates sponsored by the nonpartisan Ohio Debate Commission, but their Democratic Party opponents said they would debate, according to an announcement Wednesday by the debate commission.

“We’re obviously disappointed. We work hard with our partners and funders to convene debates that would serve campaigns, serve voters and strengthen democracy,” said Dan Moulthrop, board president of the commission, which is a collaboration of media outlets, civic organizations and universities in Ohio.

“Yet this election year has been plagued with candidates from both parties who prize their campaign consultants’ input over voters’ information needs. When 84% of Ohioans are saying they want debates and campaigns refuse a good faith offer from a statewide organization, democracy is paying the price.”

U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance, a Republican Cincinnati businessman, declined to debate his opponent, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland Twp.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, declined to debate former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, the Democrat running against him in the governor’s race.

The plan had called for the governor and senate debates to be held Oct. 10 and 12 at the Akron-Summit County Public Library. The commission will not hold debates with just one candidate from each race on stage.

“This is incredibly disappointing. I agreed to this and numerous other debates across Ohio,” Whaley said. “I guess Mike DeWine is too big of a coward to defend his record. Ohio deserves better.”

DeWine has held more more statewide television addresses and press conferences than any Ohio governor, said Tricia McLaughlin, director of communications for DeWine’s campaign.

“Throughout the fall, Governor DeWine and his opponent will have ample opportunity to outline their very different records and visions for Ohio,” McLaughlin said. “This includes during the Ohio Association of Regional Councils’ forum, the Vote for Ohio Kids’ forum on October 6, as well as the multiple Ohio newspaper endorsement screenings that have long served as defacto debates.”

The two forums do not involve the candidates appearing on stage together, noted Courtney Rice, communications director for the Whaley campaign. She said Whaley participated in The Ohio Association of Regional Councils’ forum on August 26 and is scheduled to participate in the Vote for Ohio Kids’ forum on October 6.

Ryan is eager to debate Vance, said Dave Chase, Ryan’s campaign manager.

“In order for that to happen, J.D. needs to stop hiding from debate organizers and trying to back out of forums both candidates have already committed to,” Chase said. “But by trying endlessly to cherry pick debate hosts — in what can only be a desperate attempt to avoid scrutiny for his extreme views on abortion or his nonprofit that brought a Big Pharma mouthpiece to Ohio rather than help fix the opioid epidemic — J.D.’s endless foot-dragging and game-playing may mean Ohioans get no senate debate at all.”

In rejecting the debate proposal, Vance’s campaign pointed to commission Executive Director Jill Miller Zimon’s previous political involvement as a Democratic Party candidate and donor, including a $250 contribution to Ryan’s congressional campaign in 2014.

“It would be absurd to participate in a debate overseen by a liberal Tim Ryan donor who has repeatedly smeared Republicans. Ohioans deserve fair, impartial debates,” said Luke Schroeder, the Vance campaign spokesman. “J.D. has accepted two nonpartisan debates, and hopes our opponent will as well.”

In August the Vance campaign said he would participate in debates hosted by Nexstar News’ WJW TV/Fox 8 in Cleveland and one hosted by WLWT News 5 in Hamilton. In addition to the commission’s debate, Ryan agreed to participate in debates in Youngstown and Hamilton, according to his campaign.

Zimon ran unsuccessfully for state representative in Democratic primaries in 2014 and 2016. Her final political contribution, $600 to the Ohio Democratic Party, was March 29, 2018, according to the Federal Election Commission website.

“From the time the debate commission became a concept that people wanted to move forward with I stopped engaging in partisan politics,” said Zimon, who was with the commission from its start in late April 2018 and became executive director in 2020.

The commission sponsored the governor and senate race primary debates at Central State University in March. Vance participated in the Republican primary debate but DeWine and the other Republican candidates for governor chose to not participate. Ryan and Whaley both participated in their primary debates.

“J.D. Vance and Mike DeWine are both cowards and know Ohio voters view them as frauds and their agendas as out-of-touch,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters after the debate commission’s Wednesday announcement. “If Vance and DeWine can’t muster the courage to stand on a debate stage and face the voters, they certainly won’t be brave enough to take on special interests or their own party and do what’s right for our state.”

An Ohio Republican Party spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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