The four major candidates in the Democratic primary for governor met for their first debate of the year last night at a high school in Toledo. It was the first meeting for this group of contenders, and the event got heated a few times.
For more than an hour, the candidates were asked about marijuana, diversity on their teams, gun laws, infant mortality, opioids and algae blooms in Lake Erie. It was the fourth debate for state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, who was the first Democrat in the race and remained after three women who were running dropped out. But he is still the least known candidate of the group.
“Name recognition on a poll means nothing to me," Schiavoni said. "Going to places and talking to people about what’s important to them means everything to me.”
The role of endorsements
The three other candidates who dropped out -- Betty Sutton, Nan Whaley and Connie Pillich -- all threw their support behind Richard Cordray, the former attorney general and head of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Sutton became his running mate.
Cordray said he's happy as well to have also gotten some key union support before the primary.
“I’m proud to have their support, and I’m proud to have earned their support," Cordray said. "And what I can say is, I’m not anointed by anyone. I will earn support as we move forward in this primary, and I’m happy to have it go on that basis.”
Cordray referenced several comments made by former Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, who called Cordray “Prince Richard” several times, and launched at least two attacks that included mentions that Cordray had received the endorsement of the NRA when he ran for re-election as AG.
“The only two people on this stage that have won statewide is Richard Cordray and myself," O'Neill said. "The difference being, I won in ’12. He lost to Mike DeWine with the backing of the NRA in ’10.”
Kucinich vs. Cordray never developed
Cordray shot back a few times at O’Neill, including calling a Facebook post in which O’Neill discussed his sexual past disgusting and inexcusable.
Cordray may have been expecting an assault from former Cleveland mayor and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, since Kucinich had blasted Cordray in a speech at the City Club of Cleveland last month. But Kucinich didn’t take that tactic this time – but did have to defend himself for repeatedly meeting with Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
“Yes, I’ve met with many people who might be found objectionable," Kucinich said. "But I’ve always done that following the Polish style of creating peace.”
On the topic of working with Republican opponents, Schiavoni said he was no stranger to that.
“This is my life," he said. "I mean, I’ve been the minority leader in the Statehouse. I’ve been down there nine years working in the minority. Every time I drive my car from Youngstown down to Columbus, I’m thinking about how we can get things done for the people.”
What about Medicaid?
When the topic turned to Medicaid expansion, Cordray brought up the two Republicans that one of the four Democrats will face this fall. He predicted a GOP governor will likely dismantle it.
“And Mary Taylor is behind them to take it away from Ohioans. And Mike DeWine is tongue tied on that issue. He will not say that he will support the Medicaid expansion because he’s afraid of his right wing in the primary,” Cordray said.
Will Clinton be a plus?
When it comes to campaigning, the candidates were asked if they’d welcome former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to help out. Kucinich was enthusiastic.
“I would say to Hillary Clinton, who I’ve known for many years, come on down," Kucinich said. "I’d say to all Democrats, 'Come on to Ohio, because if I’m the nominee, we’re going to take back Ohio.”
The question of how to unify the party came up. O’Neill, who has been sharply critical of the Ohio Democratic Party in the past, didn’t spare it this time when asked about a memo that said the party is concerned about the viability of his candidacy because of "financial and ethical challenges."
“The leadership of the Ohio Democratic Party does not like me and I welcome their dislike,” he said.
But O’Neill and the other candidates said they would support whoever the party’s nominee turns out to be.