By Ethan Nichols, Staff Writer
During the Ohio GOP Senate primary debate on Monday, candidates to succeed Sen. Rob Portman pitched themselves to voters in a series of volatile exchanges.
Two leading candidates, former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel and businessman Mike Gibbons, became involved in an on stage standoff after Mandel accused Gibbons of “making millions” off stock in a Chinese company.
“You’ve never been in the private sector in your entire life; you don’t know squat,” Gibbons responded.
“Two tours in Iraq, don’t tell me I haven’t worked,” Mandel replied.
“Back off, buddy, or you’re going to end up…” Gibbons said, not finishing the sentence.
“You’re dealing with the wrong dude.”
“No, you’re dealing with the wrong guy,” Mandel countered. “You watch what happens.”
The men repeatedly told each other to back off before standing eye-to-eye for several seconds. Moderator and conservative radio host Brandon Boxer stepped in to break the two men up. Fellow GOP candidates Matt Dolan, Jane Timken and JD Vance watched from their seats. Eventually, Mandel returned to his seat.
Fifteen veterans backing Mandel wrote an open letter Monday saying they were “disgusted beyond belief” at Gibbons’ comments.
“Gibbons owes Josh and all veterans and those currently in the service an apology, implying that ‘WE’ who served our country honorably and faithfully, never earned our way working in the private sector,” they wrote.
Mandel and Gibbons have been neck and neck in recent polls. The incident continued after the debate with both sides releasing statements.
“Mandel is unhinged, unfit and flailing — because he’s losing. He is only a professional at one thing: running for office,” Samantha Cotten, Gibbons’ spokesperson, said.
“He is hellbent on lying because he is failing. He doesn’t have the temperament, experience or fortitude to be a U.S. Senator.”
Mandel’s campaign manager Scott Guthrie responded to Cotten.
“Gibbons got upset tonight that he was called out for his investments in Chinese oil. He claims not to remember the investment, but it’s part of a pattern of Gibbons’ entire career making money by taking American companies and selling them to foreign interests,” Guthrie said.
The Ohio Democratic Party reacted to the GOP debate, saying, “We encourage every voter to watch this forum and see for themselves why these Republicans do not deserve to be in the United States Senate.”
Xavier Director of Government Relations Sean Comer also weighed in on the debate.
“The intensity of that exchange suggests this race feels tighter now than it did six months ago,” Comer said.
“The candidates will watch closely how people react over time. I could imagine each campaign sending a poll into the field now to understand voter appetite for that intensity and see if it helped or hurt their message with their targeted voters,” he added.
The primary election is currently scheduled for May 3rd, but is subject to change given recent State Supreme Court rulings striking down Ohio’s legislative districts.
The winner of the Republican primary will face either U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan or attorney Morgan Harper.