CLEVELAND (WJW)– The top five Ohio Republican candidates vying to replace longtime Sen. Rob Portman faced off in a debate Monday night ahead of the upcoming primary.
Matt Dolan, Mike Gibbons, Josh Mandel, Jane Timken and JD Vance fielded questions from NBC4’s Colleen Marshall and FOX 8’s Joe Toohey in Cleveland.
The hour-long debate was broadcasted on Nexstar stations across the Buckeye state: WDTN 2 News in Dayton, NBC4 in Columbus, WKBN/WYTV in Youngstown, WTRF in Wheeling, West Virginia/Steubenville and FOX 8 News.
Each candidate had 60 seconds to answer a question. If there was a follow-up question or rebuttal, the candidate was allowed 30 seconds to respond and 15 seconds for clarification, if needed. A bell rang when time was up.
The same debate opportunity was offered to the Democratic Senate candidates, but not enough candidates met the requirements.
We want to start by addressing what happened between Mike Gibbons and Josh Mandel at a Friday night candidate forum. Mr. Mandel, can you explain what happened? You have 30 seconds.
Josh Mandel: “I’m a fighter. I’m a Marine. I’ll never back down from a fight. The problem is all these squishy, RINO Republicans… We can’t afford to send weak and soft Republicans.”
Mr. Gibbons, can you explain what happened? You have 30 seconds.
Mike Gibbons: “My point was Josh has never been in the private sector. The military is not the private sector.”
Tonight, Ohioans are struggling with inflation and gas prices. The candidates are unanimous in saying President Joe Biden is at fault. We would like to start with each candidate providing one specific solution to get gas prices under control.
Mike Gibbons: “Joe Biden caused the increase in gasoline prices which happened well before Vladimir Putin put troops on the Ukraine border.” He says the U.S. should start producing its own gas.
Matt Dolan: “You don’t provide checks to people to stay home… When you get people back to work… That creates a downward pressure.”
Jane Timken: “They acted like children… It will be a priority of mine to get back our energy independence.”
Josh Mandel: “So instead of depending on radical Muslim nations, instead of depending on thugs like Putin…” He says we should be producing gas in Ohio.
Now we’re going to talk about Ukraine. The candidates all criticized President Joe Biden’s handling of the situation. But what are we going to do about it?
Mr. Mandel is up first. Ohio is home to one of the largest populations of Americans of Ukrainian decent. You’ve said the president is too late in his response, but at this juncture, what role should America play in this conflict?
Josh Mandel: “We should be doing everything we can to ensure that Ukrainians can defend themselves… We shouldn’t be sending our boys and girls over there.”
Mike Gibbons: “It is heartbreaking talking to my friends of Ukrainian descent… It’s very much like World War II. I think we’re dithering while Ukraine was under potential invasion… I think we should arm them to the teeth.”
JD Vance: “We should absolutely not support a no-fly zone… It’s terrible what Vladmir Putin did… but we have our own problems in the U.S.” He shifts to advocating for the border wall.
Matt Dolan: “I’m the only one who says Donald Trump’s statements calling Putin a genius… I’m the only one to stand up for that.” He points the finger at JD Vance, demanding an apology for Ukrainians in the U.S. Vance brings up the Dolan family changing the Indians to the Guardians. The two start talking over each other.
Jane Timken: “I’m a mom on a mission to take our country back. My priority is the safety and security of our families…. It is Biden’s basement diplomacy leading to this.”
Mr. Mandel, we’d like to follow up with you. You’re endorsed by Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), who called Ukrainian President Zelenskyy a “thug.” Do you agree with that? You have 30 seconds.
Josh Mandel: “I fundamentally disagree with that. I think the thug in this situation is Vladimir Putin… He hates us. He hates America. Putin is the enemy.”
Mr. Gibbons, Mr. Vance says your response to the Ukraine situation would be, “America last.” Why is he wrong? You have 30 seconds.
Mike Gibbons: “We need to have Ukraine win this war.”
Mr. Dolan, President Joe Biden committed to protecting our NATO allies. There has been fighting within 15 miles of Poland. At what point would you support sending in American troops? You have 30 seconds.
Ms. Timken, current Sen. Rob Portman endorsed you. He went to Poland and said what Ukrainians want is fighter jets. Would you support that?
Jane Timken: “I would absolutely support this.”
Looming large in this race is former President Donald Trump. In our latest poll, 62% of Ohio’s Republican primary voters say an endorsement from him would make them more than likely to vote for a candidate.
Former President Trump shows up in many of the candidates’ ads and many have met with him. We are going to ask each candidate about their views on Donald Trump.
Mr. Vance, you’ve admitted you’ve changed your mind on Donald Trump. In the past, you’ve said, “I’m a never Trump guy,” “My God, what an idiot” and, “God wants better of us.” Why should Trump supporters vote for you? You have 60 seconds.
JD Vance: “All of us say stupid things and I happen to say stupid things very publicly.” He says Donald Trump revealed corruption.
Mr. Dolan, you are the only candidate in this race that Donald Trump said he would not endorse. Can you win a Republican primary without his support? You have 60 seconds.
Matt Dolan: “I’m the only one on this stage who has implemented Trump ideas…I’ve cut taxes… I have supported the police… When you run a campaign, it’s about you, Ohio.”
Ms. Timken, Donald Trump backed you for Republican party chair. He’s weighed on Ohio Congressional primaries and Senate primaries in at least six other states. Why hasn’t he endorsed you this time around? You have one minute.
Jane Timken: “There are lot of people who are all talk in this race. There are a lot of show horses. I’m a work horse… I would welcome President Trump’s endorsement.”
Mr. Mandel, Donald Trump has said repeatedly he picks winners. But, he has yet to pick someone in the Ohio Senate race. Are you worried Donald Trump doesn’t think you can win? You have 60 seconds.
Josh Mandel: “I’m doing everything I can do earn his support… I am a fighter. I am steel spined.” He says people like Mitt Romney should be “eliminated” from the Republican Party.
Mr. Gibbons, “I am a Trump supporter, but I’m not into the cult of personality.” What do you mean by that and do you think Trump supporters are a cult? You have one minute.
Candidates, we have one last question to ask you about Donald Trump. We will give you a chance to respond in a moment but first, a raise-your-hand question.
Do you think, as some high-level Republicans have suggested, that for the betterment of the Republican Party it’s time for Donald Trump to stop talking about the 2020 election and move on? If you think he should stop talking about it, raise your hand.
Jane Timken, Josh Mandel, JD Vance and Mike Gibbons do not raise their hands. Matt Dolan is the only one who does.
Josh Mandel: “I believe this election was stolen from Donald J. Trump.” He again refers to “squishy RINO Republicans.”
This question has to do with transgender women competing in women’s sports. Over the weekend, Ohio swimmers were among the many women who lost to transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in the NCAA championships. Lia was born a male but transitioned to a female.
While Lia Thomas complied to all transgender guidelines, is the NCAA violating federal civil rights law by allowing her to compete as a woman?
Candidates, bottom line: Did the NCAA violate federal law? And, as senator, would you pursue policies addressing transgender athletes?
Matt Dolan: “Biological males should not be competing against biological females… This is a state’s issue. What I’m worried about a lot of my opponents, they want to federalize a lot of issues… The NCAA got it wrong.”
Jane Timken: “As a mom and a former college athlete, this is fundamentally unfair… This is a federal issue. It’s exactly Title IX… This is an example of woke Democrat policies.”
Josh Mandel: “The Democrat Party they like to lecture all of us… Obviously, the Democrats don’t know anything about gender because they think they are 52 genders. Boys are boys and girls are girls.”
Mike Gibbons: “It’s ridiculous and people are going to get hurt.”
JD Vance: “I think it’s really sad that she would work her entire life for the woke left take that away.” He’s referring to his infant daughter.
We’re going to switch gears here. You’ve all made statements within this campaign that have gotten the attention of voters. Here, we’re going to give you a chance to clarify what you meant. In the interest of time, no rebuttals unless we call on you.
Mr. Vance, last month, you wrote a column where you talked about restoring mutual trust and respect between our citizens and our leaders. But you’ve called our country’s leaders “idiots,” “scumbags” and more. Isn’t that a contradiction?
JD Vance: “At the end of the day, a lot of leaders are dumb… No issue illustrates this more that the obsession with vaccine mandates.”
Mr. Gibbons, in a recent interview, you talked to Colleen Marshall about the role of women and had something very specific to say about the only woman in this race.
Mr. Gibbons previously said, “Jane Timken, best I know before she became chair of the Stark County Republican Party barely worked. It’s certainly not her money.”
In that same interview, Mr. Gibbons told Colleen Marshall you believe women have never been oppressed. What do you mean by that? You have 60 seconds.
Mike Gibbons: “We’ve made great progress in this country… We’ve made a great deal of progress.” “I think when they weren’t allowed to vote, they were probably oppressed, but it was a different time.”
Ms. Timken, we have a separate question for you that we will get to in a moment, but first, do you want to respond to what Mr. Gibbons just said? You have 15 seconds.
Jane Timken: “This is an example of the arrogance in Mike Gibbons… We need leaders like me… Mike Gibbons is out of touch.”
Ms. Timken, our question for you: Your campaign is playing an ad that attacks several of the male candidates in this race. Ms. Timken, how is this any different than Mr. Gibbons’ comments about your gender? You have one minute.
Jane Timken: “Two candidates who were more concerned with themselves… I’m in this race for Ohioans.” She says she’s been in the trenches fighting for Trump’s America-first agenda.
Mr. Mandel, on Oct. 24 you tweeted, “Shut down government schools and put schools in churches and synagogues.” Mr. Mandel, you’ve also said there’s no such thing as separation of church and state. You graduated from Beachwood High School and Ohio State. Do you want them shut down? You have 60 seconds.
Josh Mandel: “The ACLU, the liberal media and some of this squishy RINO Republicans…” He says kids should be encouraged to pray and say the pledge. He eventually says no, he does not think Beachwood and OSU should be shut down.
Mr. Dolan, on your website you say, “Few understand cancel culture more than me.” Mr. Dolan, Donald Trump accuses your family’s organization of giving in to cancel culture when you changed the name of the Cleveland Indians. Did your family do the right thing? You have one minute to respond.
Matt Dolan: “This is a family decision that my family made and I’m going to stand by it.”