Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Commentary: GOP Senate candidates produce more low-lights during second debate

ohio gop senate candidate matt dolan is the only candidate to raise his hand in agreement when asked by a debate moderator if its time Donald Trump moved on from the 2020 election.
When the moderator asked Ohio's five GOP candidates for U.S. Senate to raise their hand if they thought it was time former President Donald Trump move on from the 2020 election, only Matt Dolan raised his hand.

You know, Donald Trump could do all of Ohio a favor and just pick one of these Republican U.S. Senate candidates to endorse. Just get it over with.

Then maybe they could go for five minutes without groveling for his favor and talk about something relevant to the job of being a United States Senator.

Monday night, in a TV studio at Fox 8 in Cleveland, the five candidates in the GOP Senate primary — Jane Timken, Josh Mandel, Mike Gibbons, JD Vance and Matt Dolan — spent an hour in a debate that was televised statewide.

Four of them spent an inordinate amount of that hour — precious minutes that the viewers will never get back — professing their undying loyalty to Trump. Clearly, the four of them would be willing to drop to their knees and spit-shine his Italian shoes should be ask them to.

Here, believe it or not, was the defining moment of the first televised debate among these candidates:

At one point, one of the moderators, Joe Toohey of Fox 8, asked the five candidates to raise their hands if they believed it was time for Trump and his supporters to move on from the argument that Trump won the 2020 election.

Only one — Dolan, the state senator from Chagrin Falls — raised his hand.

The other four, then, went on to explain why they believe the preposterous lie that the election was somehow "stolen" from Donald Trump.

Each of the four had his or her own odd explanation of why they believe that.

It was not a high point of the debate.

At least no fist fight broke out, as almost happened last Friday when Gibbons and Mandel, at a debate hosted by FreedomWorks in suburban Columbus, went belly-to-belly after Gibbons suggested that Mandel, a career politician, never worked in the private sector. Mandel was in Gibbons face, screaming that that, as a Marine, he did two tours in Iraq. "Don't say I never worked! Don't say I never worked!"

At Monday night's debate, Mandel and Gibbons were asked to explain what happened at the FreedomWorks debate.

"I'm a fighter; I'm a Marine; and I'll never back down from a fight," Mandel said.

Gibbons said it was a "disagreement over what the private sector is. The military is not the private sector." And he added that his son is a Navy pilot.

Each of the candidates had their head-scratching moments. Here are a few:

Timken: Did I tell you I am a mom?

The former Ohio Republican Party chair and Cincinnati native is at the bottom of the pack according to a recent Emerson College poll, along with Dolan. Both polled at 6%.

Someone must be telling her that the way to break out of the pack is to pitch herself to Republican women, as the only woman in the field.

Ohio senatorial candidate Jane Timken, center, applauds during a speech by Ohio Senator Rob Portman at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, Friday, March 4, 2022.
Jeff Dean
Ohio senatorial candidate Jane Timken, center, applauds during a speech by Ohio Senator Rob Portman at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, Friday, March 4, 2022.

That's why, in almost every answer to a question, she would start by saying "As a mom…"

"I'm a mom on a mission to take our country back," she said — repeatedly.

The other catchphrases Timken ran into the ground Monday night were just as annoying — "I am a workhorse, not a show horse" and "I put 150,000 miles on my car" traveling Ohio, spreading the word on Donald Trump.

My personal favorite Timken mom-ism, uttered when she was talking about the dust-up between Gibbons and Mandel last Friday, went like this: "They acted like children and if I had been their mother, I would have grounded them."

Josh Mandel, Man of Steel

Of course, Mandel had to remind listeners at every turn that he is a former Marine. "I'm a fighter; I am steel-spined."

Steel spine. Must have a heck of a time getting through security at airports.

Lesser mortals, presumably including his opponents on the debate stage, are "squishy-soft RINO Republicans." Republicans-in-name-only.

"Squishy" seems an odd description. When I hear it, I think immediately of puppy toys.

Mike Gibbons might as well write off women voters

When it came time for each candidate to explain off-the-wall statements they had made in the past, Gibbons, a wealthy investment banker from Parma, was asked to respond to statements in earlier interviews when he said Timken "barely worked" before getting into politics and said that women had never faced oppression in this country.

Mike Gibbons, a Republican Senate candidate for Ohio, speaks to supporters as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., looks on during a campaign rally in Maineville, Ohio, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.
Jeff Dean
Mike Gibbons, a Republican Senate candidate for Ohio, speaks to supporters as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., looks on during a campaign rally in Maineville, Ohio, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.

Gibbons then plowed ahead, basically painting Timken as a woman who married into money (the Timken Steel family of Canton) and who sat around all day eating bon-bons.

Even Mandel jumped to Timken's defense, saying she was a Harvard-educated lawyer with a long professional resume before becoming Ohio Republican Party chair.

Gibbons stumbled on, foot firmly planted in his mouth.

He said that women may have been oppressed "when they weren't allowed to vote, probably."

Gibbons tossed fuel on the fire by saying that there weren't a lot of women in combat, during the World Wars.

“That was men’s jobs at the time, women were not subjected to that, so were men oppressed because they had to go to war?” he said. “I don’t know if oppressed is the right word. It was a different world, that’s all.”

Timken said Gibbons' comments about women showed his "arrogance." And she went after Gibbons and Mandel for their "bravado" and "bloviation" in the confrontation at last Friday's FreedomWorks debate.

“What would Jane have done if Josh Mandel had attacked him on the stage?” he said, pointing at Timken.

Timken corrected him: "You mean 'her' on stage."

Game, set and match to Timken.

Mike, here’s a towel to wipe the egg off your face.

Dolan takes on Vance

Vance was asked about his statement on a Steve Bannon podcast right after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. "I gotta be honest with you," the Middletown-born author-turned-venture capitalist told Bannon. "I don't really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another."

He was singing a somewhat different tune at the Cleveland TV debate.

“I’m in the minority up here,” Vance said in response to the question, “because at the end of the day, we can accept as individuals — look, it’s tragic. It’s terrible. What Vladimir Putin did was wrong, invading a sovereign country on his border, but we have our own problems in the United States to focus on.”

And then he shifted the discussion to a problem he says he cares about deeply — securing our southern border with Mexico. Build the wall.

jd vance
Jeff Dean

Dolan jumped in a few minutes later, telling Vance he owed Ohio's considerable Ukrainian population an apology for blowing off the Russian invasion as not our problem.

Vance's retort was of the grade school playground so's-your-mother variety.

"You and your family changed the name of the Cleveland Indians to the Guardians," Vance said to Dolan, whose family owns Cleveland's major league baseball franchise. "Ridiculous."

Changing the name of a baseball team or pooh-poohing a brutal invasion by Russia into a sovereign state? Which is the greater offense? Give me a break.

Please endorse now. I never thought I'd say this, but only Donald Trump can end this nonsense.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.