CINCINNATI — With the race tightening less than two weeks before Election Day, the candidates for U.S. Senate in the swing state of Ohio squared off Thursday night in their final debate.
The back and forth between incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, turned contentious from the outset — with each accusing the other of bending the truth, twisting the other’s words and being a rubber stamp for his respective political party.
Mr. Brown, elected to the Senate in 2006, had held a sizeable, double-digit lead over Mr. Mandel, but the contest has tightened considerably. A Rasmussen poll released this week shows Mr. Brown up 48 percent to 44 percent. Other polls have the race even closer, most putting it within the margin of error.
The Ohio contest is central to Republicans’ plan to recapture control of the Senate, and Mr. Mandel wasted no time in painting the incumbent as a creature of Washington who can’t be trusted to help repair the nation’s lagging economy.
“In order to change Washington, we have to change the leaders we send there,” Mr. Mandel said.
Mr. Brown “talks about standing up for the middle class. The reality is, he’s stood on the middle class” by supporting policies that haven’t created jobs while allowing fuel and other costs to rise, he said.
Mr. Brown, as he’s done throughout the campaign, shot back that Mr. Mandel is a sellout to anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, and said the Republican would’ve allowed the auto industry to go bankrupt in 2008 and 2009. More than 800,000 jobs in the Buckeye State are tied to the auto industry.
“I just wonder what you would’ve done to help the middle class in this state,” Mr. Brown said.
The testy exchange wasn’t limited to the Cincinnati television studio that hosted the debate.
Outside the building, dozens of supporters of each candidate screamed at each other and chanted slogans. Some pulled down the other candidate’s yard signs, which had been put up in front of the studio.
The scene was indicative of a race that’s often turned ugly, and there’s been little love lost between the two candidates over the past several months.
That continued Thursday night as the incumbent criticized Mr. Mandel for not taking a firm stand on whether he supports the GOP budget plan put forward by the party’s vice-presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
“When you go to Washington, you actually have to vote yes or no,” Mr. Brown said.
Mr. Mandel accused the Democrat of being a “bail-out senator” for supporting the bank and auto sector rescues. He also said Mr. Brown supports using American tax dollars “as welfare for foreign countries that harbor terrorists,” referring to U.S. aid to Pakistan and other nations in the Middle East.
The two sides found little common ground throughout the 60-minute debate, though they did agree that benefit levels for Social Security and Medicare must not be changed for those nearing retirement.