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It looks like there won't be debates in races for Ohio governor and U.S. Senate this fall

David Petkiewicz, Cleveland.com
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Ohioans who are holding out hope that the candidates for governor or U.S. Senate will appear on stage together at the same time to answer questions will be disappointed to learn the Ohio Debate Commission said it’s not going to happen with that organization this fall.

There are no statewide debates scheduled where both candidates will appear together on stage at this point. The ODC said the Republicans running for Ohio Governor and U.S. Senate have refused to participate in its proposed debates.

Liz Walters, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Ryan were ready and willing to participate.

“I think that J.D. Vance and Mike DeWine are both cowards. And they know that Ohio voters view them as frauds and their agendas are so out of touch so they don’t want to be held accountable," Walters said.

The Ohio Republican Party issued a written statement blaming the ODC for failing to agree to terms that are acceptable to all candidates and saying it is beholden to Democrats.

"If the Ohio Debate Commission cannot find terms that are agreeable to all candidates, then they have failed in their stated mission," the ORP said in the statement.

Although the statement said the commission is beholden to the Ohio Democratic Party, Republicans have participated in every Ohio Debate Commission event since 2018, except for the planned debate among the Republican candidates for governor in March. Republican primary nominees Jim Renacci and Joe Blystone accepted but Mike DeWine declined, which led to the debate being cancelled.

Both Ryan and Vance participated in debates against challengers in their respective parties before the May primary.

The candidates react

DeWine has contended all along that there's no reason to debate Whaley. He has said it isn't necessary since he routinely holds press conferences and answers questions from the media on a variety of non-scripted topics. And DeWine said he plans to participate alongside Whaley in editorial endorsement meetings.

“I’ve sat through enough of them and been involved in enough of them to know that those can be give and take, going back and forth with one candidate saying one thing and one something else. Look, we’ll see. We’ve made no final decision in regard to that," DeWine said last month.

Whaley, who had agreed to participate in the ODC's proposed debate on October 10 in Akron, said she's incredibly disappointed.

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

Ryan's campaign said the ODC's proposed debate on October 12 is one of three he committed to, and he said Vance has blown off or cited scheduling conflicts in all of them. Campaign manager Dave Chase said Vance needs to stop hiding from debate organizers and quit trying to back out of forums in which both candidates were asked to appear.

“All we want is J.D. and his team to stop playing games and have the courtesy to respond to these reputable news outlets attempting to give Ohio voters the fair debate they deserve. But by trying endlessly to cherrypick 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," Chase said.

Vance's campaign spokesman, Luke Schroeder, blamed Ryan and the ODC.

"It would be absurd to participate in a debate overseen by a liberal Tim Ryan donor who has repeatedly and publicly smeared Republicans. Ohio deserves fair, impartial debates. J.D. has accepted two nonpartisan debates and hopes our opponent will as well, " Schroder said.

The news that the ODC won't hold these debates wasn't a surprise to many who watch politics closely.

The announcement comes just one day after conservative media outlets published stories about past political activities of the executive director of the ODC. She ran for the Ohio House as a Democrat in 2014 and 2016, and records show she's donated to Democratic candidates, including to Ryan's congressional campaign in 2014. That was before the ODC was created in 2018 and she was named executive director.

The ODC's board president Dan Moulthrop issued a statement saying the commission is disappointed that it won't be holding the debates.

And he added, referencing a recent USA Today Network/Suffolk University poll: “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."

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment. Jo started her career in Louisville, Kentucky in the mid 80’s when she helped produce a televised presidential debate for ABC News, worked for a creative services company and served as a general assignment report for a commercial radio station. In 1989, she returned back to her native Ohio to work at the WOSU Stations in Columbus where she began a long resume in public radio.