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Commentary: First DeWine-Cordray Debate Shows The Two Clearly Don't Like Each Other

Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine, meet Wednesday night in Dayton for their first of three scheduled debates in the race for Ohio governor.
Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine, meet Wednesday night in Dayton for their first of three scheduled debates in the race for Ohio governor.

If you thought for a moment that the choice between Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray for Ohio governor was a choice between Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, get over it.

Especially that is, if you were watching or listening to the one-hour debate between the two Wednesday night from Curran Center at the University of Dayton.

You know better now, don't you?

You may have also learned something else – these two guys don't much like each other.

Snippy responses, rolling eyeballs, wry smiles and – from Cordray, at least – a laugh or two at what the other was saying, made it clear that they are not just ideological opposites but two very different human beings, with two distinct sets of values.

The only thing the two men have in common is that they have both been Ohio's attorney general – DeWine since 2011, Cordray for the two years before that.

They both sniped at each other over the subject of experience.

Cordray, several times, is clearly trying to convince Ohio voters – those who have yet to make up their minds – that DeWine has been around the block in Ohio politics once too often.

"Mike DeWine believes that after 42 years in politics he deserves to be your governor; that it is his turn,'' Cordray said. "But I tell you, Mike – this is not just another rung for you to climb on the political ladder."

This line – repeated in one form or another several times by Cordray – seemed to light up DeWine, just to the point of blue smoke pouring out of his ears.

"Richard acts like he's never been in office before,'' DeWine said. "We've both been in office a lot. The difference? I got things done; I'm a problem-solver."

They butted heads on ECOT – the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a charter school, now closed, that took the taxpayers of Ohio for $189 million by over-counting students. It may have managed to stay afloat as long as it did by its owners spreading campaign money to Statehouse politicians, mostly Republicans.

DeWine said that when he learned of the U.S. Department of Education audit of ECOT, "I took action. We have successfully prosecuted this at every level."

The GOP candidate said there is a place for private online education in Ohio but that it must be closely monitored.

This had Cordray smiling and shaking his head.

"ECOT stole $189 million from the state of Ohio, and you did nothing for seven years," Cordray told DeWine. "And now, in the eighth year,  you sue them when you are running for governor."

Both candidates had a habit of changing the subject when confronted with an issue they didn't particularly want to talk about.

DeWine answered Cordray's jab about ECOT by rolling out a charge used in one of his campaign commercials – that Cordray, when he was attorney general in 2010, left behind 12,000 untested rape kits for DeWine to handle when he became attorney general in 2011.

DeWine caught Cordray smiling as his opponent hammering him over the rape kits.

"You live in a fantasy world,'' DeWine said. "You laugh … you think this is funny. You think it is funny that you didn't do anything at all with 12,000 rape kits."

Cordray said DeWine insists on exaggerating and mischaracterizing the situation.

You have to remember – these two have tangled head-to-head before – eight years ago, which seems like a lifetime in politics.

Then DeWine was in one of his few (and brief) periods out of public office during his adult life, having lost his U.S. Senate seat four years before to Democrat Sherrod Brown. (Funny, how these same names keep popping up in Ohio politics.)

Cordray was riding pretty high at the time; he was the Ohio attorney general, having won a 2008 special election to replace Democrat Marc Dann, who had to resign in a sex scandal.

Then, like now, it was a tight race all the way. Then, like now, the candidates faced each other in statewide debates.  

And, in the end, DeWine eked out the slimmest of victories, winning by less than 49,000 votes out of 3.8 million cast. About a 1.3 percentage point separated the winner and the loser.

And the polls in this race point to yet another close contest.

Wednesday night was just round one. They will do it two more times before the Nov. 6 election – on Oct. 1 in Marietta and on Oct. 8 in Cleveland.

By that time, this debate may end up seeming like a harmless backyard fire pit next to the four-alarm fires that are to come.

Debates are always more interesting when candidates seem to truly dislike each other. And these two fit the bill.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

  Read more "Politically Speaking" here. 

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