As politicians compete for the nomination for Ohio’s Senate race, Morgan Harper a progressive Democrat, and Josh Mandel, a Trump-supporting Republican, debated on Jan. 27, 2022, in Columbus. I watched the debate in its entirety as it was streamed online.
The debate was hosted at the North Columbus Baptist Church and streamed by Matter News, a news reporting agency based out of Columbus, dedicated to providing free and accessible journalism.
The debate was streamed on a multitude of platforms, and can be found in its entirety on Facebook Live.
The debate consisted of 20 questions, which were addressed to one candidate, allowing the other candidate to respond. The first candidate was permitted to rebut the response, as well.
A debate between candidates of different parties during the primary season is atypical, but Harper agreed to it, citing concerns that her Democratic opponent, Tim Ryan, has so far declined to engage in a debate. As of writing, Ryan has agreed to a debate only if all Democratic candidates running for the nomination and qualified for the ballot were in attendance.
In his opening statement, Mandel cited his three children as his inspiration for running, as well as concerns of the “radical left” and “secular left” destroying the legacy of the country and erasing freedoms.
Mandel also said he, unlike Tim Ryan, was not afraid to debate Harper, saying “if Morgan was a white male, Tim Ryan would have already debated her, but the reality is that she is a black female.”
Harper spoke of the needs for a new direction of politics, rather than establishment. She spoke of her being from Ohio, and the struggles that brought her there, as well as her work in consumer protection law, and her objection to PAC funding for her campaign.
The candidates were questioned on a variety of issues including economic policy, climate, growing inequality, immigration and the pandemic.
The debate was heated, with Mandel going on the attack primarily against the Democrats but against Harper in particular. Harper conversely kept her cool most of the debate.
Mandel argued for increased drilling of fossil fuels to create jobs, reduce heating costs and to take away power from other fossil fuel-producing countries.
There was a moment where Harper condemned Mandel for trying to speak for Black people when he argued that Black people as a group should oppose government help.
“I’m gonna take a message to the black community about freedom and liberty and parental control of our kids and not government control of our kids” Mandel said.
“So what we don’t need to have happen is Josh Mandel speaking in any way for the black community. I think we’ve got that” Harper said.
It’s also worth noting that Mandel has been Ohio treasurer and involved in electoral politics since 2007.
Mandel rallied against government interference at every angle, while Harper was more supportive of the role it could play. An exception to Mandel’s anti-government framing was on the question of policing, where he was pro-police and called BLM protestors and antifascists “thugs.”
The subject of religion came up and Mandel provided a rather bizarre take on the subject of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.
“I do not believe in separation of church and state. There is no such thing.” Mandel said, arguing that the concept was not included in the Constitution, and that Judeo-Christian values are the foundation of America, rather than Muslim or atheistic values.
Harper was stunned and said separation of church and state was a core American value.
The debate highlights a stark divide in the rhetoric and values of the Democratic and Republican parties. Mandel focused on the idea of values being attacked by the left, values of religion, of freedom and independence, and gender roles, going into a transphobic rant when the question of trans rights arose. Becoming conspiratorial on questions of immigration, the 2020 election and the coronavirus, Mandel claimed that it was a Chinese bioweapon made to punish Trump for standing up to China.
Harper focused primarily on a need to bring justice to society, protecting those hurt by the current economic order and the rights of minority groups, while also countering Mandel’s conspiracies.
The rhetoric expressed here showcases the divide in American politics, and the aggressive nature of the debate highlights that feelings of partisanship are ever-growing.