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Published: Saturday, 10/2/2010

Senate rivals to face off in Toledo Monday

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

For the most part, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Lee Fisher have stuck to their campaign itineraries in the race for the U.S. Senate, only occasionally bumping into each other as they crisscross the state.

That changes Monday night.

The two candidates will face each other across the stage at Bowsher High School for a live televised debate, to be broadcast nationwide, starting at 7 p.m. with a panel of Ohio newspaper journalists.

The Ohio Newspaper Organization, of which The Blade is a member, is sponsoring the debate. It will be broadcast live by WTVG, Channel 13. OHNO is a cooperative of the state's eight largest daily papers, also including the Dayton Daily News, (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, and (Youngstown) Vindicator.

The one-hour debate, which will not be open to the public, also is scheduled to be televised live by C-SPAN.

Spokesmen for both candidates said they're looking forward to the question-and-answer meeting.

Jessica Towhey, spokesman for the Portman campaign, said, “The debates are going to present a sharp contrast between the two candidates — Lee Fisher, who is closely tied to job-killing policies, versus Rob Portman, who understands that we're on the wrong track.”

She predicted political attacks on Mr. Portman from Mr. Fisher out of “desperation.”

Holly Shulman, spokesman for Mr. Fisher, said, “Voters will see that this election is a clear choice between Congressman Rob Portman — who wants to keep tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, pass more of the same bad trade deals, and give tax breaks to millionaires — and Lee Fisher, who has spent his life on the ground in Ohio working to save and create jobs.”

Mr. Portman has a reputation as a good debater, according to the Washington Post, which reported in 2008 that he was called upon to impersonate both former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat turned Independent, in mock vice presidential debates with Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004 and 2000, respectively.

Ms. Towhey said that Mr. Fisher is also a skilled debater with experience in statewide election campaigns.

Two more debates between the Senate candidates are planned, in Cleveland on Friday and Columbus on Oct. 12.

The panelists in tomorrow night's debate are Blade politics writer Tom Troy, Columbus Dispatch senior editor Joe Hallett, Dayton Daily News reporter Laura Bischoff, and the Plain Dealer's chief editorial writer, Joe Frolik. WTVG news anchorman Diane Larson will moderate the debate.

Blade Executive Editor Kurt Franck said it's an honor for The Blade and Toledo to host the political forum.

“This is an opportunity for readers and viewers to know what's going on and what the candidates are planning if they are elected,” Mr. Franck said.

Mr. Franck noted that newspapers from other Ohio cities are sending reporters to cover the event and that the broadcast will be available on satellite to be picked up and rebroadcast across Ohio.

“It's a big race and Ohio's a big state,” he said.

Brian Trauring, WTVG news director, said staging a live candidate forum, which involves pre-empting commercial programming, is “an important public service.

“We really are pleased to be able to bring citizens direct discourse from the major candidates,” he said.

Contact Tom Troy at:tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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