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Published: Wednesday, 9/15/2010

Strickland, Kasich take verbal punches at one another

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The two candidates for Ohio governor took verbal swings at one another one moment and shook hands at another Tuesday night as voters had their first chance to see them together in a televised debate.

WATCH VIDEO:

Replay Tuesday night's debate courtesy of WBNS TV 10, Columbus (Editor's note: Slight delay at beginning of video)

Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, seeking a second term, and his Republican challenger, John Kasich, found little to agree on in their debate over who is responsible for the state's fiscal woes, taxes, government spending, trade, and education. But they largely agreed on issues such as the death penalty and dealing with the state's unemployment compensation fund debt.

"We can't keep doing what we're doing,'' Mr. Kasich said, reminding the audience of nearly 400,000 jobs lost since Mr. Strickland took office.

"It's not a matter of being a cheerleader,'' he said.

"One must face the facts. … Stop blaming everybody else. When you get hired as a CEO, you have a job to do. … We should have reduced spending, serving the customer, making government more efficient and effective. We should have been training workers better.''

But Mr. Strickland fired back, "I'm not blaming everybody. … I'm blaming you and your buddies on Wall Street who acted irresponsibly, caused the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and sent our economy off the cliff. That's who I'm blaming.''

Both candidates avoided major mistakes, sticking primarily to condensed versions of their campaign stump speeches. No one seemed to land a knockout blow.

The governor set out to demonstrate he has worked to lay the groundwork for a stronger Ohio when economic recovery comes. "We're on our way,'' he said more than once.

Mr. Kasich countered, "Six hundred fifty-one CEOs say that Ohio is the 44th best place to do business. If [Ohio State football coach] Jim Tressel were ranked 44th, he wouldn't have a job.''

It remains to be seen whether the two major party candidates got what they needed out of the debate in a studio in COSI Columbus. Mr. Kasich was reaching across to Ohioans who know little about him, hoping voters liked what they saw. Mr. Strickland sought to reverse the momentum in the race after a series of polls showed Mr. Kasich in the lead.

Neither candidate tipped his hand on the hot-button issue of how he would close what could be a projected shortfall of as much as $8 billion going into the next two-year budget beginning July 1, 2011.

Mr. Kasich stuck to his pledge that he would not raise taxes while Mr. Strickland argued taxes have gone down on his watch, albeit under a plan first set in motion by his Republican predecessor.

"The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,'' Mr. Strickland said. "… We have not raised taxes. In fact, we've cut taxes. The income tax has been cut 17 percent since 2005, and most of that has come while I've been governor. … Times are tough. Revenue coming into the state has diminished. We've had to make tough choices.''

Mr. Kasich disagreed.

"The governor's raised taxes,'' he said. "He's raided and securitized tobacco [settlement funds] that was supposed to be a fund to provide a revenue stream for 50 years. They used it all up in four. They've exhausted the rainy-day fund, and we're billions of dollars in the hole. Why? Because we're killing jobs.''

The two candidates relied on different sets of data to make their cases, coming to different conclusions on such issues as Ohio's attractiveness to small business, state spending levels, and the effectiveness of Ohio's K-12 schools.

Mr. Strickland accused his opponent of relying on outdated data. The governor vigorously defended his decision to successfully pursue $400 million in federal funds to restore passenger rail service connecting northeastern, central and southwestern Ohio.

"A lot of states in America tried to get those resources,'' he said. "We were absolutely fortunate that Ohio was chosen. … The corridor between Cleveland, Columbus, over to Dayton, and down to Cincinnati is the most heavily populated corridor in America that is totally devoid of passenger rail service. … If we do not proceed with this, 10 to 20 years from now Ohio will be an island. We will be cut off. … This is also a jobs program. Four hundred million dollars is going to put a lot of people to work.''

But Mr. Kasich said that plan would be dead if he's elected.

"The idea that we're going to fix Ohio's economy with a 39-mph speed train is prima facie evidence that we are lost here in the thicket,'' Mr. Kasich said. "The $400 million, I suggest you ought to ask them to give our money back and we ought to use it to pave roads and build bridges.''

The second and last televised debate is set for 8 p.m. Oct. 7 at the University of Toledo's Driscoll Alumni Center.

Both debates are sponsored by the Ohio Newspaper Organization, consisting of The Blade, Columbus Dispatch, (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, (Youngstown) Vindicator, Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, Cincinnati Enquirer, and Dayton Daily News.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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