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Ohio Democratic hopefuls for Senate cover Supreme Court, Ukraine at Central State University debate

News: Senate Democratic Primary Debates
Joshua A. Bickel/Joshua A. Bickel/Ohio Debate Com
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The Columbus Dispatch
Mon., Mar. 28, 2022; Wilberforce, Ohio, USA; From left, Debatę moderator Curtis Jackson of Spectrum News, and Ohio U.S. Senate Democratic candidates Traci "TJ" Johnson, Morgan Harper and Rep. Tim Ryan begin during the U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Debate. Mandatory Credit: Joshua A. Bickel/Ohio Debate Commission

The three Democratic candidates for US Senate met for the first time on stage in the first of a series of three debates leading up to the May 3 primary.

Ohio’s three Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate met for a debate at Central State University Monday. The looming retirement of Republican Sen. Rob Portman has left an open race to fill his seat in this year’s midterm elections.

The brisk midday debate, presented by the Ohio Debates Commission, saw Congressman Tim Ryan making workers the focus of his remarks while he tried to fend off challenges from Morgan Harper, who emphasized her experience as an attorney and senior advisor with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Businesswoman and activist Traci "TJ" Johnson stayed out of that fray while introducing herself to a statewide audience.

Ryan has represented the Mahoning Valley in Congress since 2003. In his opening statement, he said Ohio’s Senate race could shift the national conversation.

"Ohio has always been a leader in industry, in service to the military, in how we treat our veterans, research, manufacturing and so Ohio has to lead the way in bringing our supply chain back, taking on China, building the things that build our future," Ryan said.

Moderator Curtis Jackson of Spectrum News began the debate with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He asked candidates how they would respond if President Joe Biden requested permission from Congress to use military force against Russia in the event that a NATO ally is attacked.

Ryan said he would grant that request. Harper said she’d be willing to consider it.

Even as they fielded questions about Ukraine and, later, the U.S. Supreme Court, Ryan and Harper sparred over campaign contributions. Harper criticized the congressman for accepting donations from defense contractors.

"To the workers of the state of Ohio, I want you to know very clearly: I stand on your side, and I don’t need to take money from management to do that," Harper said.

Ryan replied that the defense industry supports thousands of jobs in Ohio, and that he would work with those businesses: "Look, if you want to take jobs out of Ohio and out of the country, I’ll be your biggest enemy. You want to bring jobs to Ohio and the United States, I’ll be your biggest friend."

Both Ryan and Harper say they support scrapping the filibuster, while Johnson said the legislative maneuver should be reassessed.

Harper endorsed the idea of expanding the U.S. Supreme Court beyond nine justices. That proposal has divided Democrats who are now wrestling with the reality of a 6-3 majority of Republican nominees on the high court.

"We now have an institution of our government, the supreme court, that has been radicalized by the GOP that has pushed through these confirmations," Harper said. "And we need to be honest about the fact that it is happening, and that it no longer represents the majority of the will of the people living in the state of Ohio or across this country."

Ryan and Johnson said they don’t support adding Supreme Court seats.

This was candidate Johnson’s first TV debate, a point she made in her closing remarks.

"This is my first time ever having an experience like this, but I want you to know that from the bottom of my heart I want to be your next United States senator," Johnson said.

Johnson grew up in Toledo and has served as a ward committee woman in Franklin County. She has worked in state government and is president of an IT firm in the Columbus area.

"You need somebody that’s going to listen to you and then go to Washington and work on your behalf," Johnson said. "We don’t need any more divisiveness. We don’t need any more debating. We don’t need any arguing."

Receiving few mentions at the Democratic debate were the seven Republicans vying for the office. The winners of each primary will face each other on the ballot in November.

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