COLUMBUS — Gubernatorial candidates Mike DeWine and Richard Cordray defied expectations of a dull debate and largely succeeded in their goals of appealing to their political bases, observers said Wednesday.
“I had expectations that it would be flat, wonky-ish, kind of boring. It certainly wasn’t that,” said Dan Birdsong, a University of Dayton political science lecturer who watched the debate with students.
Gubernatorial candidates Richard Cordray, left, and Mike DeWine shake hands before Wednesday's debate.
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“They seemed to be more tense at times, certainly combative,” he said. “There was more back and forth. Often when watching debates you don’t see the candidates engage the other by name. They were referring to each other in some of their attacks.”
Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at nearby Cedarville University, believes both candidates scored points and was not sure that either was a clear winner.
“DeWine needed to show that he was vibrant, willing to fight, and conservative enough to his base,” he said. “He did that. Cordray needed to show he could share the stage with DeWine and not shrink or be cowed …
“Cordray got better, especially with his opioid argument,” Mr. Smith said. “DeWine has been attorney general for a long time. It was harder for DeWine to portray Cordray as a failure. Most people don’t understand what he was doing in the Obama administration.”
Wednesday marked the first of three debates between Mr. Cordray, the former Democratic attorney general and most recently federal consumer watchdog, and Mr. DeWine, former U.S. senator and current attorney general. They are vying to succeed Republican Gov. John Kasich.
They will get two more chances to debate at Marietta College on Oct. 1 and Cleveland State University on Oct. 8. None of the debates will feature Libertarian Travis Irvine or the Green Party’s Constance Gadell-Newton.
“For Cordray, he needed to spark enthusiasm to make sure those on the fence have a reason to vote and vote for him,” Mr. Birdsong said. “He needed to fire up the Democratic base and the Sherrod Brown Democratic base. If people were going to vote for Sherrod Brown, they needed to punch the ballot for him as well.”
A poll released this week by Cleveland’s Baldwin Wallace University had Mr. DeWine up with 42 percent of the vote to Mr. Cordray’s 37 percent, leaving 21 percent undecided a month and a half out from the Nov. 6 election.
In contrast, U.S. Sen. Brown was up 19 percentage points over his Republican challenger, northeast Ohio U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci.
“For DeWine, he needed to show energy for another reason, his age,” Mr. Birdsong said. “He is much older than Cordray, and he needed to show he has the same level of energy. In one Cordray statement, he said DeWine was a career politician in office for 42 years. They are both career politicians, but highlighting his years in politics, 42 years, said ‘you’re old.’ ”
Mr. Birdsong believes Mr. Cordray won the debate, suggesting that the points Mr. DeWine attempted to make in contrasting himself with his predecessor as attorney general were “muddied” in delivery.
The debate focused on such issues as crime, the state’s opioid addiction epidemic, recreational marijuana, abortion, college affordability, charter schools, and Medicaid with sharp contrasts between the candidates on most of them. But Mr. Smith was struck by what was not discussed.
“I was surprised that neither tried to go positive, even with the economy, which is doing much better than four or eight years ago,” he said. “They presented things as negative, almost in crisis mode. Especially with DeWine, who is part of the administration at some level, you would think he’d try to accept some credit.”
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