Amid turbulent race, U.S. Senate GOP candidates lay out views on taxes and foreign policy
While the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination has seen its fair share of squabbling and mudslinging, the candidates have also attempted to standout of the packed crowd for their takes on pressing issues.
The five leading candidates have leaned on their credentials from their respected backgrounds, with most vehemently vying for the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.
The candidates include Matt Dolan, state senator and part-owner of the Cleveland Guardians; Mike Gibbons, investment banker; Josh Mandel, former state treasurer; Neil Patel, businessman; Mark Pukita, businessman; Jane Timken, former Ohio Republican Party chair; and J.D. Vance, venture capitalist and author of "Hillbilly Elegy."
With about two weeks before election day, Trump endorsed Vance and appeared with the Republican candidate at a rally in Delaware.
The five leading candidates agree that immigration will be a key issue while serving in the Senate, and they emphasized the importance of securing the southern border with Mexico. However, they have different takes when it comes to another pressing issue: the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Approach to helping Ukraine
All the candidates blame President Joe Biden for what led to the Russian invasion, and all the candidates oppose American involvement in either a no-fly zone or with troops on the ground.
Vance has gotten the most heat for his position – saying on former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s podcast that he doesn’t "really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another."
Vance, who declined an interview, has also called media coverage of the invasion a "distraction." During the Republican U.S. Senate debate at Central State University in March, Vance said the situation is a tragedy but "it is not our job and it is not our business."
"Let’s remember exactly what happened with the Ukraine and compare that to what’s happened in our own country. So Congressional Republicans and Democrats refused to give Donald Trump $4 billion for a U.S. border wall over four years, while fentanyl, illegal drugs and tons of other problems poured into this country, killing our citizens. They gave Joe Biden $14 billion for Ukraine in one week. That suggests some pretty messed-up priorities," said Vance.
Timken said in an interview that – in contrast to Vance – she does care, and that The Timken Company has ceased operations in Russia. The former Ohio Republican Party chair said the U.S. should send military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and should impose what she called “full court sanctions," including banning the sale of Russian oil and gas.
"We have over 80,000 people of Ukrainian descent here in Ohio. These are their families. These are the people that they are very concerned about. And so I think as a Senator I would be pushing for peace through strength, American military strength. Dictators like Vladimir Putin Respect American strength. But right now we're showing weakness with Joe Biden's basement diplomacy," Timken said.
Global impact of invasion
Matt Dolan said at the debate that what happens in Ukraine is important because the U.S. must support its allies. He also stressed that China – which considers Taiwan a province and not a sovereign country – is watching and that the situation is all part of American national security.
"I do believe we should have troops in NATO countries. I also believe that we have to be stronger and more efficient and effective with our sanctions in Russia. John McCain called Russia a gas station. That's their economy. And yet we still are not putting sanctions on the very revenue source that's funding Putin's tragic war in Ukraine," said Dolan.
Gibbons has talked about growing up in Parma, home to Ohio’s largest Ukrainian community. He said the people of Ukraine can win if they’re properly armed, and he added that would be a benefit for the rest of the world.
"We need to arm them with anything that can help them protect themselves. And I don't care. Now we're sending howitzers and a few others. I wish that our defense bureaucrats stopped telling everybody what they're sending. It just infuriates Putin more," said Gibbons.
Mandel didn’t respond to a request for an interview but he said at the March debate that Putin has long hated the U.S. He added that the "real threat" is the Chinese Communist Party
"They are focused on the downfall of America and the rise of communist China. That is why we need people in public office in the U.S. House, in the U.S. Senate, in the White House who are strong, who have backbone. Joe Biden is weak. I will be a point of strength, just like Donald Trump," Mandel said.
Pukita made the baseless claim that all entities in the U.S., Ukraine, and elsewhere are lying about what’s happening, but that it’s a humanitarian disaster and he supports arming the Ukrainians. Patel noted that Ukraine is not in NATO but that the U.S. should support them.
Taxes and the middle class
The five leading candidates have all touted the Republican Party’s usual stance – that the government spends too much money and that tax cuts are good.
But then a six-month old podcast from Crain’s Cleveland Business called "The Landscape" was unearthed, featuring Gibbons.
"The top 20% of earners in the United States pay 82% of federal income tax. And if you do the math, and 45-50% don’t pay any income tax, you can see the middle class is not really paying any kind of a fair share,” Gibbons said in that podcast.
Gibbons said in response that his opponents have been taking that out of context.
"They said I want to increase taxes on the middle class. I've never said that in my life. I've never said I wanted to increase taxes on anybody,”
Gibbons said. "I took the Taxpayer Protection pledge twice. I'll never vote for a tax increase, ever. I want a smaller government, not a bigger one.”
Timken, who was targeted in a Gibbons ad on tax policy, said that she takes Gibbons’ comments to mean he’d raise taxes.
"I advocate cutting taxes for the middle class. I believe that taxpayers know best how to spend their money," Timken said. "And we in this country don't have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem, and it's about reducing the amount of money our federal government is spending."
Timken was asked at the March debate about a proposal from Florida U.S. Senator Rick Scott, a Republican, that suggested all Americans should pay at least some income taxes, including about half who don’t earn enough to pay them under current law.
"Absolutely I would not support Rick Scott's agenda, especially because it raises taxes on the middle class," Timken said.
Vance made a similar statement at that debate.
"I don’t agree with everything. In particular, he’s advocated for middle class tax increases. I think that’s a joke for the Republican Party. Why would we increase the taxes on the middle class?” Vance said.
But Vance has been blasted on tax policy too. He was called anti-business for saying that corporations that advocate against Republican-backed voting law changes should be punished with higher taxes. He talked about that in a town hall on Newsmax April 20.
"It’s not just their customers are American taxpayers. It’s they get a ton of special privileges. They get liability protections. They get subsidies. We should be willing to cut that stuff off if these corporations are going to engage in politics," Vance said.
Candidates tout their record on tax policies
Vance, Timken, and Gibbons have no record on tax policy because they’ve not been in position to cast votes on it – but Mandel has.
He voted for budgets with tax cuts as a state representative from 2007 until he was elected state treasurer and took office in 2011.
"When I was state treasurer, I took the entire state of Ohio’s checkbook, I put it online. I said the taxpayers have a right to know how the tax money is being spent. And by doing that we brought transparency, and we cut the state budget. I’m going to do the same thing in Washington," Mandel said at the debate.
That message morphed a bit in this ad featuring Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican.
“Josh Mandel took Ohio from an $8 billion budget hole to a billion dollar surplus,” Cruz said in that ad.
That claim was false because Mandel did not have a vote on that budget crafted in 2011 by former Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who is soundly rejected by many pro-Trump Republicans for his opposition to the former president. There’s also widespread dispute over that $8 billion budget hole.
Dolan was not in the legislature in 2011 either. He became a state senator in 2017, and has voted for and worked on Republican-created budgets and also chaired the Senate Finance Committee.
Critics say tax cuts in the last several budgets have benefited the wealthy and hurt lower income people, which Dolan disputed. He said he wanted to take similar steps at the federal level, including cutting the corporate tax rate.
"I think in the United States we tax our companies way too much and it's a disincentive to maintain their businesses in the United States or to relocate back to the United States," Dolan said. "So we have to make it attractive for the private sector to invest here because when they do, we are much better off."
The race for the U.S. Senate Republican nomination will be decided by the May 3 primary. Ohioans are also able to cast their ballot during early voting both in-person or by mail.