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Portman and Strickland Face Off in Final Senate Race Debate Before the Election

photo of Rob Portman and Ted Strickland
ANDY CHOW
/
STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU

The two major party candidates for U.S. Senate in Ohio held their third and final debate in Cleveland last night. Freshman Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican,  faced former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat. Each tried to link the other to their party’s presidential candidate. 

The default campaign mode for these two has been Ted Strickland blaming Rob Portman for trade deals with China while Portman blames Strickland for causing the Great Recession.

Last night they linked each other to the top of their party’s ticket. Portman has recently distanced himself from Donald Trump by withdrawing his endorsement,  but Strickland thought it took long.

“He stood by Donald Trump when he called women pigs and when he mocked a disabled person.  And it wasn’t until it was in his political calculation to try to disassociate himself," Strickland said.

Portman said his Democratic opponent should have condemned Hillary Clinton.

“When Hillary Clinton called half of Donald Trump’s supporters deplorable, said they were irredeemable, said they were racists, Ted Strickland didn’t stand up. He still hasn’t to this day condemned those comments,” Portman said. 

The Supreme Court fight
Portman was asked about comments from another prominent Republican, Sen. John McCain, who said if Clinton is elected Republicans would vote against any Supreme Court nominee she proposes. Portman says he’s been open minded about judicial nominees.

“There are many of Barack Obama’s nominees who I found were not qualified for the court, and I could not support. But many I did support including his appointments to executive office as well as the court. I look at each one on their merits, and that’s what we have to do so no, I don’t agree we should automatically bock nominees,” Portman said.

But Strickland noted Portman has been blocking President Obama’s nominee this past year.

“For months he has blocked Judge (Merrick) Garland. He says this man should not have a hearing or get a vote. He has disrespected the president and he has failed to carry out his constitutional obligation,” Strickland said. 

After Senate stalls on others of President Obama's nominees, Democrats changed Senate rules to require only a majority vote to get the president’s federal judicial nominees approved. Portman said he would like to raise that up to a 60-member approval threshold because it would require bipartisan support for a nominee.

Coal and other energy issues
On questions about global warming, Strickland backed the Obama administration’s proposal to set strict limits on carbon emissions at coal-burning plants.  

“Sen. Portman opposes President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. I, as governor, passed an energy bill that has efficiency standards and renewable standards and were seeing major investments in Ohio in wind and solar," Strickland said.

Obama’s plan is now stuck, awaiting an appeals-court decision. Portman argues his opponent is bad for Ohio’s coal and gas industry and is losing support because of it.

“When he lost his election he moved to Washington. He joined up with a group there  a lobbying group. He was their chief lobbyist. And that group took on our Ohio interests, energy interest, coal interest, natural gas interest -- and supported over-regulation,” Portman said.

Guns, Obamacare, heroin and criminal justice
Both candidates largely agreed on guns – that background checks should be required for people who are on the federal no-fly list. They both agreed that the federal government has a role to play in funding treatment for opiate addiction.

But they clashed over Obamacare. Portman says premiums have skyrocketed.

“Both candidates, Ted Strickland and Rob Portman, know that. We have to know that. It’s not working for Ohio. We have to replace it with something that is patient-centered that gets more competition into the system, that gives people more choice, that does keep some of the good parts," Portman said.

Strickland says Obamacare needs to be improved but should not be repealed.

“What the senator is suggesting if you repeal it, you allow insurance companies once again to charge women more than men for health care. You allow insurance companies to say, ‘If you have a pre-existing condition we’re not going to insure you,” Strickland said.

Portman also argued that President Obama has shown weakness in Syria, while Strickland said Americans do not want to lose their soldiers in that fight.

Both agreed that law-enforcement reform is needed to eliminate racial bias. Portman pointed to Democrat Cory Booker’s reform proposal in the Senate. 

“I’m a supporter of that legislation, I’m a sponsor of it. I’ve also taken the lead in Washington over the years to ensure that people coming out of prison have the opportunity to get their lives back on track,” Portman said. 

Strickland said fundamental change is needed.   

"I worked in a maximum security prison as a psychologist for over 10 years.  I’ve seen the results of a criminal justice system that is broken. We’re sending too many people to jail for too long a period of time, and when they get out they can't get a job because of their records," Strickland said.

The other guy
Another candidate was nearby with his own ideas.   Green Party nominee Joe Demare was out on the sidewalk with supporters.   He says Ohioans have a right to know what other candidates propose.   

“If they don’t even know these basic things about our party then they are not really making a fair choice at the ballot because they don’t know what they are being denied the right to vote for.”  

An official from the organizer, The City Club of Cleveland, said if they had insisted on including third party candidates, the debate would never have occurred. 

2016senatedebate3.mp3
The full debate