URBANA, Ohio - U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley and Democratic challenger Ben Konop made a clear distinction between their plans for representing Ohio's 4th Congressional District during their first showdown last night.
Mr. Oxley (R., Findlay) told more than 100 people gathered at Champaign County Community Center last night that the district should stay the course by keeping conservative leadership in this historically Republican district.
Mr. Konop, an Ada Democrat, charged that the district, which has suffered job losses, needs a new voice in Washington.
Mr. Konop began the debate bracing for charges from his opponent that he is merely an inexperienced liberal from Toledo.
"My opponent is going to call me some names," said Mr. Konop, a 28-year-old attorney. "He is going to call me the 'L' word - liberal.
"That dog don't hunt. I value a good job."
Mr. Oxley told residents that they should take pride in the conservative values of Champaign County and the district.
"I'm a conservative, I've voted conservatively during my years in Congress," he said. "I think the people of Urbana and Champaign County want to support and re-elect a conservative member of Congress."
The challenger, though, hammered away at the 11-term congressman's record on representing the district. He asserted that Mr. Oxley has held a permanent residence in Virginia and that the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee is more committed to big business than voters.
He also said the congressman has a poor record on outsourcing and that he's voted against proposals that help farmers.
"My opponent has used his experience to benefit his big campaign contributors like Enron and Halliburton," Mr. Konop said. Mr. Oxley answered the claims, saying members of Congress typically have residences in their districts and near Washington. He said Mr. Konop "parachuted" into the 4th District to compete for his job and has "no roots" in the community.
The congressman also defended his record, speaking about projects including the Highway 68 bypass and enhancing the infrastructure of Urbana University.
The audience, which was split between the candidates, cheered at times and even gave a standing ovation at the conclusion of the debate.
The candidates will square-off again Wednesday during a televised debate in Lima.
Mary Lee Gecowets, a supporter of Mr. Oxley and Champaign County chairman of his campaign, said the Republican seems committed to the district. The 4th District was redrawn two years ago to include the county.
"I like that he has experience and that he can bring back things for the district," she said. "He has been very visible in the community before the election. He's made every effort to come to the community.
Mary Ellen Chaney, of Logan County, said the district and Washington need new energy.
"[Mr. Konop] brings some young ideas in," she said. "Someone who has been there too long, they don't have any fresh ideas.
"We need change."
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