CLEVELAND - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) and Republican challenger Josh Mandel battled in a debate of sharp contrasts today, including on the advisability of the 2009 auto industry rescue.
Mr. Mandel gave his most blunt answer yet on the $80-billion taxpayer-funded rescue that many believe saved the U.S. auto industry after the 2008 credit crisis.
"I would not have voted for that. I couldn't have," Mr. Mandel said, saying the bailout deprived nonunion retirees of the Delphi Co., a General Motors spinoff, of the value of their pensions.
"I will do everything I can in Washington to grow the economy with strong manufacturing policies, strong auto manufacturing policies, but I'm not a bailout senator. He's the bailout senator," Mr. Mandel said.
Mr. Brown responded that the bailout saved 800,000 jobs, and said he worked with former President Bush and President Obama on the legislation.
"This job is about real people, with real families, and real problems and real goals and dreams. And yet Josh Mandel called my vote for the auto rescue 'un-American.' I call that vote doing my job to fight for their jobs," Mr. Brown said, later adding, "To vote against the auto rescue boggles the mind."
The forum was sponsored by the City Club of Cleveland and was held in front of a large and boisterous lunch crowd inside the Renaissance Hotel ballroom in downtown Cleveland.
The two traded jabs, with Mr. Mandel often categorizing Mr. Brown's answers as "Washington-speak" and Mr. Brown repeating a slogan from his campaign, that Mr. Mandel is "a politician we can't trust."
Both faced tough questions from the audience relating to past campaigns. A man speaking in a foreign accent asked Mr. Mandel about a controversial ad from his 2010 campaign for treasurer that linked his opponent with someone with an Arabic name, seeming to imply it was bad to be a Muslim.
"I spent 15 months of my life doing everything I could to protect Muslims," Mr. Mandel said, referring to his two tours with the Marine Corps Reserves in Iraq. "One of my concerns about radical Islam is that women in the Middle East are treated like garbage."
Mr. Brown piled on, saying the 2010 campaign is being played out in 2012.
"We've seen a lot of these kinds of campaigns from Josh Mandel. We're seeing it again today, attack, attack, attack," Mr. Brown. "Doesn't have to have a lot of substance."
Senator Brown was reminded that in an early campaign of his career he promised to serve no more than 12 years in Congress. He told the questioner he made a mistake, and then quickly turned around to blast Mr. Mandel for saying he would serve a four-year term as treasurer, "and then within weeks was flying off to places like the Bahamas to raise [money] from the payday lenders for a Senate race."
Asked about abortion, Mr. Mandel said, "I am pro-life, I believe in protecting life," and then pivoted to say the real issue for everyone was creating jobs.
Mr. Brown said, "I trust women to make their own health care decisions," and said Mr. Mandel also opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest.
Mr. Mandel repeatedly invoked the sluggish economy and high unemployment rate as the legacy of Senator Brown's service in Congress, which included the House of Representatives and since 2007 as a U.S. senator.
"We are not going to change Washington by sending Sherrod Brown there," Mr. Mandel said in his closing statement.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.