Ohio’s three Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate met for a debate hosted by the Ohio Debate Commission at Central State University on Monday.
The brisk midday debate saw Congressman Tim Ryan making workers the focus of his remarks while he tried to fend off challenges from Morgan Harper, who emphasized her experience as an attorney and senior advisor with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Businesswoman Traci “T.J.” Johnson stayed out of that fray while introducing herself to a statewide audience.
Ryan has represented the Mahoning Valley in Congress since 2003. In his opening statement, he said Ohio’s Senate race could shift the national conversation.
“Ohio has always been a leader in industry, in service to the military, in how we treat our veterans, research, manufacturing,” Ryan said, “and so Ohio has to lead the way in bringing our supply chain back, taking on China, building the things that will build our future.”
Moderator Curtis Jackson of Spectrum News began the debate with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He asked candidates how they would respond if President Joe Biden requested permission from Congress to use military force against Russia in the event that a NATO ally is attacked.
Ryan said he would grant that request. Harper said she’d be willing to consider it.
Even as they fielded questions about Ukraine and, later, the U.S. Supreme Court, Ryan and Harper sparred over campaign contributions. Harper criticized the congressman for accepting donations from defense contractors.
“To the workers of the state of Ohio, I want you to know very clearly: I stand on your side, and I don’t need to take money from management to do that,” Harper said.
Ryan replied that the defense industry supports thousands of jobs in Ohio, and that he would work with those businesses.
“If you want to take jobs out of Ohio and out of the country, I’ll be your worst enemy,” he said. “You want to bring jobs to Ohio and the United States, I’ll be your biggest friend.”
Both Ryan and Harper said they support scrapping the filibuster. Johnson said the legislative maneuver should be reformed or eliminated.
Morgan Harper and Rep. Tim Ryan shake hands at the end of the debate hosted by the Ohio Debate Commission [Joshua A. Bickel / Ohio Debate Commission]
Harper endorsed the idea of expanding the U.S. Supreme Court beyond nine justices. That proposal has divided Democrats who are now wrestling with the reality of a 6-3 majority of Republican nominees on the high court.
“We now have an institution of our government, the Supreme Court, that has been radicalized by the GOP that has pushed through these confirmations,” Harper said. “And we need to be honest about the fact that that is happening, and that it no longer represents the majority of the will of the people living in the state of Ohio or across this country.”
Ryan and Johnson said they don’t support adding Supreme Court seats.
U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Traci “TJ” Johnson, left, listens as Rep. Tim Ryan gives a rebuttal at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. [Joshua A. Bickel / Ohio Debate Commission]
This was Johnson’s first TV debate, a point she made in her closing remarks.
“This is my first time on a debate stage, this is my first time ever having an experience like this,” Johnson said. “But I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I want to be your next United States senator.”
Johnson grew up in Toledo and has served as a ward committee woman in Franklin County. She has worked in state government and is president of an IT firm in the Columbus area.
“You need somebody that’s going to listen to you and then go to Washington and work on your behalf,” she said. “We don’t need any more divisiveness. We don’t need any more debating. We don’t need any arguing.”
The looming retirement of Republican Sen. Rob Portman has left an open race to fill his seat in this year’s midterm elections.
Receiving few mentions at the Democratic debate were the seven Republicans vying for the office. The winners of each primary will face each other on the ballot in November.