Candidate Forum at CSU turns into ‘slug fest’

By Karen Rase

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WILBERFORCE — It started out calmly enough, but by the time the “credits rolled,” the seven candidates featured in the 2022 Ohio U.S. Senate Republican Primary had all been figuratively “thrown under the bus” in one way or another.

Hundreds gathered Monday evening at Central State University’s Paul Robeson Cultural & Performing Arts Center for an evening of old-fashioned politics, which showcased the pro’s and con’s of each candidate.

Karen Kasler, bureau chief, Ohio Public Radio and TV (Statehouse News Bureau) was the moderator, and she had her hands full keeping the candidates in line and making sure they didn’t exceed their allotted time to comment on various issues such as immigration, border patrol, gun legislation, etc.

First in the line-up was J.D. Vance, known as a venture capitalist and author of the best selling book “Hillbilly Elegy.” The U.S. Senate candidate took a lot of grief from the other candidates for appearing to back former president Donald Trump when he has gone on record as referring to Trump as an “idiot” and worse. The Middletown, Ohio, native hopes to become the Republican nominee for Sen. Rob Portman’s seat in the May 3 primary election.

Mike Gibbons, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in a working-class suburb of Parma, was televised getting into a heated exchange after former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel accused the investment banker of “making billions” by moving Ohio businesses to China and owning stock in Chinese oil.

Gibbons denied the claims, saying he personally didn’t buy the stock and told Mandel, “You may not understand this because you’ve never been in the private sector in your entire life.” Mandel, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve, told Gibbons, “Two tours in Iraq, don’t tell me I haven’t worked.” And it went downhill from there.

Gibbons, who’s been endorsed by Rand Paul, was highly critical of President Biden’s “neglect and lax attitude” in regard to border patrol. “Our president has basically said ‘come one, come all.’ But once they step on our soil, they are subject to due process,” said Gibbons, who has raised $12.1 million — the most of any candidates in the race — with almost all but $750,000 coming from his own personal wealth.

Jane Timken, former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, recently launched a state-wide ad calling for the firing of Anthony Fauci, who has led the country’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m a mom on a mission to take our country back. I will put Ohio first — freedom, religion, and free speech,” she added.

Josh Mandel stated that “our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values/ethics” and to watch out for the “liberal media and secular left.” A poll commissioned by a pro-Vance super PAC put Mandel just 3 points ahead of Vance — at 19% and 16%, respectively. “I’m a fighter, I’m not afraid to take on Pelosi and Biden,” said Mandel, who believes “the right to bear arms comes from God, not government.”

State Sen. Matt Dolan participated in last Friday’s candidate forum in Gahanna, Ohio, hosted by the group Freedom Works. He’s an attorney and baseball team part-owner (the Cleveland Guardians) who campaigns for family values. He represents Ohio Senate’s 24th district which covers several outer suburbs of Cleveland within Cuyagoga County. He served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2005-2010.

Mark Pukita, an IT entrepreneur living in Dublin, Ohio, seemed to have a sarcastic response for every question asked of the panel. Although the GOP Senate candidate has stated that he’s not vaccinated (claiming he was protesting vaccines and mask mandates), financial disclosures show he’s making money from companies (like Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer) that make COVID-19 vaccines.

Recent disclosures show he has criticized big tech but has holdings in Apple, Amazon and Facebook. He added that concern over big tech is a bipartisan issue, and that if elected, he would work with Democrats to address it. Pukita thinks endorsements “are ridiculous” but claims to have “a 21-point endorsement program.”

Neil Patel, a lawyer, conservative political advisor, and publisher, was formerly the chief policy advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney. After leaving the Vice President’s office, Patel partnered with Tucker Carlson to co-found The Daily Caller. Patel co-founded and is managing director of Bluebird Asset Management, a hedge fund focusing on mortgage-backed securities.

The winner of the Ohio Republican primary would likely be favored in the November general election in a state that Trump won by 8 points in 2020. Although the primary is set for May 3, it could be pushed back because of congressional and state legislative redistricting maps which are still in dispute.

The Ohio Debate Commission is a collaboration of civic and media organizations and universities working to create debates of the highest quality for the highest statewide offices and distributing the content to every corner of the state. The debate was sponsored in part by AARP, the Cleveland Foundation and a host of TV and newspaper organizations.