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Published: Saturday, 10/23/2004

Voinovich, Fingerhut hit on top issues


CINCINNATI - Sen. George Voinovich and challenger Eric Fingerhut faced off yesterday in their only televised debate before the Nov. 2 Senate election.

In a tight format that allowed two-minute responses to questions and lightning-quick rebuttals, neither candidate seemed to have enough time to fully lay out his plans for representing the state in Washington.

Still, the one-hour debate at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Cincinnati's riverfront gave the candidates an opportunity to address hot-button election issues such as the economy, terrorism, Iraq, and health care.

As the candidates continually spoke beyond their allotted times in offering answers to big questions, moderator Clyde Grey, an anchor for WCPO-TV, routinely enforced rules set by the campaigns - even if it meant speaking over the candidates.

The debate aired on PBS on tape delay last night in Toledo and will be replayed on WTVG-TV tomorrow at 11:30 a.m.

Mr. Voinovich (R., Cleveland), serving his first term, told voters about his efforts to curtail needless spending in Washington.

After arriving on the federal scene in 1999, he said he acted as a "deficit hawk" by casting votes that encouraged balancing the book - even at the tail end of the economic boom.

"My colleagues were spending money like drunken sailors," the former Ohio governor said.

Mr. Fingerhut, a Democratic state senator from Shaker Heights, said Mr. Voinovich and his colleagues and Washington managed to turn a huge surplus into a large deficit within a few years.

"The economic consequences have been severe," he said.

"If he is the biggest deficit hawk in the Senate today, then we really are in trouble," Mr. Fingerhut said.

And the realities of the economic downturn are especially clear in Ohio, he added.

"This state is recovering slower than any state," said Mr. Fingerhut, who was elected to one term in Congress in 1992.

Mr. Fingerhut also attacked the senator for not making enough progress on health care and energy policy.

"For a decade and a half, he has told Ohioans that there is a trade-off between jobs and the environment," Mr. Fingerhut said.

"We have to move in a new direction," he added.

Mr. Voinovich said progress is being made in Washington because of the work he is doing as he made his case that he is an asset for Ohioans in Washington.

"I know that I am needed in the U.S. Senate because of my experience," the former Cleveland mayor and governor of Ohio said.

The debate, which was sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, WCPO-TV, League of Women Voters, and the Cincinnati Enquirer, was taped in front of a live audience.

Those in attendance were instructed not to react during the debate, but they had plenty of impressions after the candidates finished.

Emily Christoff, 18, said both candidates were persuasive. She's still undecided.

"Fingerhut seemed to be confident with what he wants to do," she said.

"They both presented their sides well."

Others saw clear winners in the debate.

Darrell Shelton, 39, of Cincinnati, said Mr. Fingerhut was too negative during the debate.

He will support Mr. Voinovich at the polls.

"Mr. Voinovich did a good job," he said.

"He won this debate hands down."

Zach Rochon, 17, who won't be old enough to vote on Election Day, was more impressed with Mr. Fingerhut.

"Fingerhut gave a much stronger presentation," he said. "He seemed very confident."

Contact Steve Eder at:


or (419) 724-6728.

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