CLEVELAND — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and his Republican opponent, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, each attacked the other man’s integrity and positions during the first of three scheduled debates in their fiercely contested race.
Standing next to Mandel at a podium before a soldout crowd at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland, Brown accused his opponent of being a political opportunist, pointing out Mandel had promised in 2010 that he would serve a full-four year term as treasurer.
“Josh Mandel can’t be trusted to fight for your job because he’s too concerned about running for his next job,” said Brown, D-Avon.
Mandel took several shots at Brown’s longevity in Washington, appearing to relish a question from an audience member that pointed out that Brown had said he would only serve 12 years in Congress when he was first elected in 1992. Brown acknowledged that pledge was a mistake, but Mandel called him a liar.
“With all due respect, senator, you had 20 years to try to solve these problems and it’s only gotten worse,” Mandel said earlier in the debate.
Calling his opponent the most liberal senator in the country, Mandel also accused Brown of being one of the most partisan and said he voted with President Barack Obama 95 percent of the time.
Brown countered throughout the debate by portraying Mandel as an extreme conservative to the right of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
When he was asked whether his decision to sign Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes would undermine his independence, Mandel said tax hikes aren’t the answer to dealing with the national deficit.
“I’m proud to stand up for lower taxes in our state, for lower taxes in our country and that’s consistent with my record,” he said.
But Brown charged that Mandel was now beholden to Norquist.
“Signing a pledge to a fat-cat lobbyist like Grover Norquist and giving away your right to think, which is pretty much what that’s doing, means we’ll never get to a balanced budget,” Brown said.
The Norquist pledge would bar Mandel from voting to close tax loopholes, Brown argued. Mandel said the tax code needs to be reformed, including tackling loopholes.
“He believes you grow an economy from the top down with tax cuts for the wealthy,” Brown said later in the debate. “I believe you grow an economy by investing in the middle class.”
Mandel promised he would buck his party, returning to familiar territory by saying that some U.S. military bases in Europe should be shuttered and that foreign aid needs to be cut. He also said that he would have voted against the Wall Street bailout and the rescue of General Motors and Chrysler.
The 2009 auto industry bailout has been something Brown has long touted as an example of how government intervention can help the economy, but Mandel said he opposed it because it stripped pensions from union workers at Delphi and cost workers their jobs.
“I’m not a bailout senator, he’s the bailout senator,” Mandel said.
Throughout the campaign, Democrats have hammered Mandel’s criticism of Brown for hiring campaign workers to work in government while doing the same himself at the treasurer’s office. Mandel called the comparison “apples and oranges” and contended he’s been a good steward of taxpayer dollars.
“The folks we’ve hired into our office are qualified people and I believe their records speak for themselves,” Mandel said.
But Brown blasted Mandel for missing numerous meetings and politicizing his office, saying, “He doesn’t show up for work, he hired his political cronies.”
Mandel also faced criticism from some audience members, one of whom asked him what was wrong with being a Muslim in America after referencing Mandel’s suggestions in his 2010 campaign that his opponent, then-Treasurer Kevin Boyce, was a Muslim. Mandel answered by talking about his military service during two tours or Iraq and national security challenges.
He also said during the debate that he was concerned about foreign aid going to nations that supported terrorists and subjugated women.
A female audience member later asked Mandel how he could support expanding rights for women in Islamic nations but oppose equal pay for equal work.
Mandel said the most important issue he’s heard women talk about during the campaign has been whether their children will be able to get jobs when they graduate from high school and college.
Mandel also was asked about whether he would work to implement policies that upheld the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Mandel responded that he was pro-life and would work to appoint judicial nominees who “understand the Constitution.”
Brown accused Mandel of holding an extreme position, opposing abortion in any case, including in instances of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is threatened by her pregnancy.
“Unlike Josh Mandel, I trust Ohio women to make their own health care decisions,” the pro-choice Brown said.
The candidates will debate twice more before Election Day at events scheduled in Columbus and Cincinnati.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or email@example.com.