Amid reports of his campaign slipping in the polls and of national Republicans giving up on his re-election effort, U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine came to Toledo tonight looking to narrow the gap less than three weeks before election day.
Instead, Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown was looking to finish off Mr. DeWine's campaign during tonight's one-hour televised clash at Stranahan Theater, sponsored by The Blade and WTVG-TV, Channel 13.
From the start, Mr. Brown, a Congressman from Avon, was on the attack, stressing that Ohio needs change after more than a decade of GOP rule as he charged that Mr. DeWine "has no spine."
Hitting back hard, Mr. DeWine, the incumbent from Cedarville, Ohio, painted Mr. Brown as a candidate on the "fringe of his party" who engages in "extreme partisanship" rather than focusing on the needs of his constituents.
With his campaign looking for a jolt after a week of negative press, Mr. DeWine's rhetoric didn't match the aggressive tone apparent in his TV attack ads hitting the airwaves in the past week.
"Congressman Brown continues to talk," Mr. DeWine said. "I continue to act."
Polls released this week showed Mr. Brown's campaign gaining momentum with about three weeks remaining before the Nov. 7 election. Some polls showed Mr. Brown with a double-digit lead in a race that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.
At the same time, Mr. DeWine's campaign has taken a more aggressive tone setting of new campaign ads attacking Mr. Brown for failing to pay unemployment taxes. The Brown campaign says the ad isn't true, and it was among the issues that took center stage during last night's debate.
"Mike knows better than that," said Mr. Brown, noting he made a $1,700 "mistake" that was quickly corrected. "This is an act of a desperate candidate who is way behind in the polls, who is trying to take attention away from issues that matter."
Mr. DeWine stood behind the ad, saying: "Read my lips, Sherrod. The ad is true. You didn't pay your taxes... you can't hide from it."
The issues raised in last night's debate largely touched on the same themes that have dominated the the race over the past several months the Iraq war, armor for troops, energy, the economy, health care, the candidates' voting records.
Mr. DeWine tried to make the case that Mr. Brown hasn't done much in more than a decade in Washington.
"You have a sorry record of getting anything done," Mr. DeWine said. "You just can't stand your record. That's your problem."
And, Mr. DeWine said it's key for Ohio to have senator who can work with members of both parties.
"You are going to get things done in Washington by working bipartisan, getting things done with the other side of the aisle," Mr. DeWine said.
Mr. Brown fired back at Mr. DeWine, saying the Republican is closely aligned with President Bush, despite the fact that he bills himself as a lawmaker who often reaches across party lines.
"Mike DeWine votes with President Bush 96 percent of the time, but he loves to brag about that other 4 percent," Mr. Brown said.
The first major debate of the election season held in Toledo had some Northwest Ohio flavor, with questions touching the state's investment with former Toledo-area rare-coin dealer Tom Noe. Noe, a major GOP fund-raiser, is on trial on charges he embezzled at least $2.2 million from the state.
At one point, Mr. Brown was asked if it was fair for him to criticize Mr. DeWine for accepting campaign contributions from Noe considering he took donations from Marvin Warner, a figure in the 1980s savings and loan scandal.
Mr. Brown didn't answer the question directly, instead challenging GOP leadership for the investment with Noe, which he said "has brought down literally a whole state government."
The debate, moderated by WTVG anchor Diane Larson, was broadcast live in Toledo on WTVG and C-SPAN carried it on tape delay.
Mr. DeWine and Mr. Brown have one final debate on tap before the Nov. 7 general election.
View Thursday's Senate debate streaming video Part 1
View Thursday's Senate debate streaming video Part 2
Ohio incumbent Mike DeWine is struggling to keep his Senate seat against challenger Sherrod Brown in the midst of widespread ethical problems plaguing politics in the state.
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