Josh Mandel and Morgan Harper face off in senate debate

Lynn Vandrasik Reporter

Rep. Tim Ryan has avoided debating Morgan Harper because she is a Black woman, Josh Mandel said during the first Ohio senatorial race cross-party debate Thursday night.

“If Morgan was a white male, Tim Ryan would have already debated her,” Mandel said. “But the reality is, because she’s a Black female, Tim Ryan and his buddies in the Democrat establishment, they condescend on her, they take her for granted.”

The debate, between Democratic candidate Harper and Republican candidate Mandel, was held at North Columbus Baptist Church. It followed a question-and-answer format, with the moderators asking the candidates 20 questions submitted by community members. Cassie Young of Matter News, a Columbus-based news collective, and Dan Wolvin of Awake America, a nationwide evangelical Christian organization, served as moderators.

Thursday’s debate was Harper’s first in the campaign, despite previously sending six challenges to Ryan. Ryan, whose district includes Kent, is at the front of the race to represent the Democratic party in the November general election. Harper, a Columbus consumer protection attorney and community organizer, has positioned herself to Ryan’s political left throughout the campaign.

Mandel, former treasurer of Ohio from 2011 to 2019, is the current leader in the Republican primary campaign. This senatorial campaign is Mandel’s third, following his unsuccessful campaigns in both 2012 and 2018. This year’s campaign is crowded on the Republican side, with 14 candidates competing; Mandel leads this race, as measured by several recent polls.

The issues discussed at the debate included transgender rights, election fraud and religious freedom. However, Mandel spent much of the evening not debating Harper, but scrutinizing Ryan and other major Democratic politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. He also accused the Democratic party of treating the Black community as a whole in a similar manner.

“What we don’t need to have happen is Josh Mandel speaking, in any way, for the Black community,” Harper said. 

Harper accused Mandel of taking significant campaign donations from fossil fuel companies and supporting policies that hurt Black Ohioans. 

“For my opponent to claim to care so much about freedom and then try to try to restrict people’s abilities to be who they are, it’s pretty inconsistent, in fact quite disingenuous,” Harper said.  

Harper fired off at Mandel, after he spent minutes attacking the legitimacy of transgender people. Declaring her support for the Equality Act, Harper vowed to uplift the rights of transgender Ohioans to “be who they are.”

Mandel received applause for pointing out Harper’s refusal to take a stance on whether women should be made to register for the draft. He also holds firm in his stance on the freedoms of religion. 

“When you read the United States Constitution, nowhere in the United States Constitution do you read about the separation of church and state. It does not exist.”

While Mandel is correct in saying neither the Constitution nor the original version of the Bill of Rights contained such a clause, the establishment clause, added to the First Amendment in 1947, is regularly interpreted as preventing Congress from elevating one religion over another.

Mandel has also been outspoken in his belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, which he reiterated during the debate. Despite this claim being discredited, Mandel has continued to maintain his position at the front of the Republican race.

Ohio’s primary election will be held on May 3. No further debates have been announced.

Lynn Vandrasik is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]