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Accusations And Interjections In 7th Congressional District Debate

Democrat Ken Harbaugh (left) and Republican Bob Gibbs at their only debate one week before election day.
M.L. Schultze
Democrat Ken Harbaugh (left) and Republican Bob Gibbs at their only debate one week before election day.

At the only debate in Ohio’s 7th Congressional District race, the candidates collided on the expected issues including healthcare, tax cuts and national security, but the killing of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last week came up as well.

More than 500 people attended the debate at Ashland University Monday night between Republican Congressman Bob Gibbs and his Democratic challenger, Ken Harbaugh.

Harbaugh clearly had the advantage in the number of supporters, but Gibbs’ faction was the most vocal, until his closing. Gibbs told voters to ask themselves if they’re better off than they were two years ago, and began rattling off a list that focused largely on the economy.

Then he got to safety.

“America is safer,” Gibbs asserted, and the audience began booing. That’s when Harbaugh interjected with a single-word reference to the weekend’s shootings: “Pittsburgh!”

Gibbs fell briefly silent, and Harbaugh’s supporters grew more vocal. Then Gibbs warned, “Keep your supporters in line here.”

During the hour-long debate, as he has throughout much of the campaign, Harbaugh accused Gibbs of repeatedly voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, eliminating coverage for pre-existing conditions. Harbaugh’s campaign provided reporters with the list of Gibbs’ 13 votes.

Gibbs maintained that a Republican replacement for what he called the Affordable Care Act “disaster” would protect pre-existing conditions and make insurance more affordable through competition.

The two disagreed over the Republican tax cuts, which Gibbs said has spurred phenomenal economic growth and Harbaugh said has sharply escalated the debt. He also said that Republicans will ultimately cut Social Security and Medicare to pay for the tax cuts.

Both also sparred over their campaign supporters. Gibbs painted Harbaugh, who has outraised him, as a stealth candidate of coastal Democratic elites.

“Liberals are trying to buy this House seat in America’s heartland and force their liberal agenda on all of us. Let’s not let this scam happen to us,” Gibbs said.

Harbaugh accused Gibbs of being a creature of “corporate paymasters,” and pressed Gibbs on why he’s accepted contributions from a PAC affiliated with one of the chief national distributors of opioids.

“Cardinal Healthcare has been sued by Mike DeWine for its role in creating the opioid epidemic, the first man-made epidemic in human history, and our congressman continues to take their money,” Harbaugh said.

The 7th District is a largely rural slice of Northeast and Central Ohio, stretching from near Lake Erie through Canton south to Coshocton.