Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and his Republican challenger, state Treasurer Josh Mandel, met Monday afternoon at the City Club of Cleveland for their first debate — making for a relentlessly negative exchange of attacks.
Mandel frequently depicted Brown, 59, as an entrenched Washington politician, responsible for the various problems the country is facing. Meanwhile, Brown put down Mandel as an extreme Republican who is constantly seeking his next political office: “Everyone here knows that Josh Mandel cannot be trusted to fight for your job, because he is too concerned about running for his next job.”
Mandel, 35, tried to break the ice during his opening remarks with a joke about how he looks much, much younger.
“I’ve come to know a lot of elected leaders throughout our state,” Mandel said. “These elected leaders have a variety of goals. Some of them, by the time they are 40, they want to be a congressman; or by the time they are 50, they want to be governor; or by the time they are 60, they want to be a senator. I try to keep my goals relatively simple: By the time I’m 36, I just hope to be shaving.”
After a brief pause, the joke attracted only a small level of applause and laughter from the audience.
Brown attacked Mandel for having signed the pledge from Grover Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, to not raise any taxes.
“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, because we’re just asking higher-income people to pay a little more like they did in the Clinton years,” Brown said. “But do you what else that means, signing that pledge to Grover Norquist? It means you can’t close tax loopholes, the subsidies that this government and we taxpayers continue to give to oil companies.”
While answering a question on trade policy, Brown said: “I take a backseat to nobody in working on bipartisan issues — the farm bill, the transportation bill, the highway bill. There’s all kinds of issues that we’ve worked on.”
Mandel later came back: “First, I need to correct the first comment that the senator made. You take a backseat to everyone when it comes to bipartisanship. You were named the most liberal senator in the United States of America — to the left of Bernie Sanders from Vermont.”
Mandel also savaged the auto bailout program.
“One of the problems with politicians in Washington who’ve been there for many decades is that they create these problems — bad energy policy, bad tax policy, bad regulatory policy — and then they try to take credit for solving them. I would not have voted for that. I couldn’t have, because it stripped from middle-class retirees their pensions,” Mandel said, adding: “I will do everything I can in Washington to grow the economy through a strong manufacturing policy, strong auto-manufacturing policy as well, but I’m not a bailout senator. He’s the bailout senator — he bailed out Wall Street, Fannie and Freddie, and large corporations.”
“Josh, do you know about the Chevy Cruise, and the Chevy Eco? The steel and the aluminum are made right here in Cleveland. The transmission comes out of Toledo. In Defiance, they build the engines. These are real jobs and real people. That’s a big part of the reason that, before the auto rescue, in early 2010, the unemployment rate was over 10.5 percent, and now it’s under 7. It’s not good enough. There are far too many people still unemployed, but we’re going in the right direction. You would be so out of step with Sen. (George) Voinovich and Congressman (Steven) LaTourette, and senators and congressmen of both parties all over the Midwest. To vote against, to be against the auto rescue, just boggles my mind.”
Mandel also had to deal with stories that he has hired unqualified political aides to important positions in the treasurer’s office.
“The folks we have hired into our office are qualified professionals. And I believe their record speaks for themselves,” Mandel said, contrasting Ohio’s strong bond rating to the federal downgrade. He turned to Brown: “I will take the team of qualified professionals that we have in our office, I will stack them up against anyone in your office, and I’ll take them to go change Washington as, well.”
Brown responded: “I think the biggest reason that Ohio’s newspapers have overwhelmingly endorsed me, when they didn’t endorse me in 2006, is because they don’t trust Josh Mandel, the way he runs his office. He doesn’t show up for work. He hires his political cronies. But most importantly, they don’t trust him because he won’t stand up for the middle class.”
The PollTracker Average currently shows Brown leading, 46.9 percent to 42.8 percent.