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Republican Senate candidates talk Ukraine, inflation at Miami-hosted debate

Republican candidates gathered at Miami University for their primary debate.
Republican candidates gathered at Miami University for their primary debate.

This year, Miami University welcomed five Ohio U.S. Senate Republican candidates during its primary debate. The candidates took to the stage to tackle a range of topics including Ukraine, crime and Critical Race Theory.

The sold-out event took place in Armstrong Student Center’s Harry T. Wilks Theater and was co-hosted by the Menard Family Center for Democracy and WLWT.

The candidates included Jane Timken, Mike Gibbons, Josh Mandel, Matt Dolan and self-proclaimed conservative outsider J.D. Vance

In their opening statements, each candidate expressed how they planned to prioritize the lives of Ohioans. By random selection, Timken answered first.

“We’ve got a lot of show horses in this race, but I’m a work horse – someone who has led with grit and grace to get things done,” Timken said. 

Alluding to their near-brawl that broke out at a recent debate, she said opponents Mandel and Gibbons were “acting like children, and children don’t win elections.” 

Each candidate explained how they would handle the state government in a way that puts the U.S. first. Expressing how they would lead better than any before, each took their turn reflecting on the work of current Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, a Democrat also in the race for Senator.

“Only in politics can you fail at your job for 20 years and expect a promotion,” Vance said.“That’s what career politicians like Tim Ryan do. At the end of the day, I hope what you get out of this debate is that I don’t just repeat the same talking points and same slogans that you hear from politician after politician. I want to speak to you like you deserve respect.”

Moving on to the question-and-answer segment of the debate, the candidates tackled the issue of inflation. As former Treasurer of the State of Ohio, Mandel shared his advice on how to amend the average American’s pains over rising costs.

“We’ve got to change and stop the reckless spending in Washington,” Mandel said. “Taxpayers have a right to know how their money’s being spent, and I earned Ohio the number one ranking in America for fiscal transparency.”

The candidates were then asked to respond to the Biden administration’s handling of the war in Ukraine and offer solutions. All of them agreed that the U.S. needs to continue arming Ukrainian defense troops against Russia.

“I don’t want to put boots on the ground, and I’m not ready to go to a no-fly zone,” Dolan said.

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Commenting on the dangerous alliance between Russia and China, Dolan said he is “willing to make sure they know America is there.”

Vance, however, warned the audience about what he views as a bigger threat to the American people. 

“The focus on Ukraine is a massive distraction from problems that we have here at home,” Vance said. “The American media spends 20 minutes on the Ukraine crisis for every one minute spent on inflation or the southern border. We’ve got to focus on our promises here.”

Touching further on how the war affects Americans, Timken criticized Biden’s early shutdown of the Keystone pipeline, which she claims has impacted gas prices. 

“We need to provide the Ukrainians with the military equipment they need to push Putin out,” Timken said, “but at the end of the day, it's critically important that we get our energy independence back because it affects our national security.”

The moderator then switched to Ohio-based issues like surging crime. Standing in support of Ohioans’ second amendment right, Gibbons turned the conversation to guns. 

“Increase in crime correlates perfectly with the Defund the Police movement, with low-bail, and with minimum sentencing,” Gibbons said.

Emphasizing his tough-on-crime stance, he added that “we need to take the criminals that are carrying guns and put them in jail – take their guns away.”

From there, the debate transitioned into the topic of race, and whether or not Critical Race Theory should be taught in Ohio’s schools. As a mother, Timken felt passionately about this subject and how it affects the future generations.

“Education is about education, not indoctrination,” she said. “We need a skilled workforce to focus on the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic.” 

Timken said she thinks that such racial ideologies are damaging America’s children, and that true progress in America “starts with taking back our classrooms.”

Finally, the candidates delivered closing statements. Vance had ideas on how to improve the Republican coalition.

“The old way of doing politics is just not going to cut it,” he said. “We are in a new world, a new situation. We have new enemies. We have new problems, and it’s time for Republicans to wake up and fight against a bureaucracy that is destroying our values.”

Mandel used his conclusion to mention his position on abortion. 

“If you’re passionate about protecting the unborn,” Mandel said, “I am your guy.”

Carter Callender, a junior political science major, said after the event that he was grateful the campus hosted such an important debate.

“If you provide students with the opportunities to pursue knowledge, they will come,” Callender said.

Although he enjoyed attending the debate, he said he was unimpressed by the candidates.

“Coming from the political background that I come from, I don’t think any of the candidates’ performances were enough to sway me to really want to vote Republican,” Callender said. 

Other students, like Aidan McKeon, a senior history and art management major and former Student Body Vice President, thought the candidates were hardly like their advertisements. 

“I thought [Gibbons] was kind of more moderate, but he’s clearly not,” he said. “And I was kind of surprised by Matt Dolan — he always came off as truly moderate, at least by today’s standards.”

While Gibbons and Mandel sit atop the most recent polling, the race continues to be close. Students can vote by heading to the polls May 3.