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Do Ohio voters still rely on debates to help make their choices?

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Sep 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-01 19:06:21-04

RAVENNA, Ohio — The Ohio Democratic Party’s website now shows a “DeWine Debate Watch” showing the number of days the Republican candidate for a second term as Governor has gone without answering the question of whether he will take the Ohio Debate Commission up on their invitation to debate his Democratic challenger Nan Whaley.

The Commission has scheduled three events in advance of the November general elections—a U.S. Senate debate, an Ohio gubernatorial debate and a forum in the race for the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. The gubernatorial debate is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 10, the US. Senate debate will be on Oct. 12 and the forum in the Chief Justice race is also expected to happen on one of those two days.

Candidates were notified of the dates in mid-May and again on July 1. The Democratic candidates have confirmed they will participate, the Republicans have not.

In a statement to News 5, DeWine’s campaign said in part, “Throughout the fall, Gov. DeWine and his opponent will have ample opportunity to outline their very different records and visions for Ohio. This includes during last week's Ohio Association of Regional Councils Forum, the Vote for Ohio Kids forum on Oct. 6, as well as the multiple Ohio newspaper endorsement screenings that have long served as de-facto debates.”

If DeWine does not debate, it is not without precedent, former Gov. John Kasich refused to debate his Democratic challenger Ed Fitzgerald in 2014, but that was more a reflection of how far Kasich was ahead. He would win 86 of the state’s 88 counties in landing a second term.

On Thursday, News 5 spoke with voters in Portage County to get their feelings on debates. Portage is one of Ohio's pivot counties that voted twice for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then twice for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. Mark from Ravenna said he still relies on them to make his voting decisions as he looks to see who has the clearest vision for the future of the state.

"I would like to see more industry here in Ohio, job opportunities,” he said. “We need improvement, that's all I'm saying."

Chelsea Gregor of Mantua won't be watching, and said she doesn't typically watch; choosing instead to make her decision on more than 90 minutes of discussion.

"Generally it's the type of person that they are, the type of things that they've done,” she said.

While Chelsea looks at what they've done through their body of work, Terry Swetel of Ravenna likes to watch the debates to see what they do with their body.

"Body language speaks for itself when you watch them. Eye contact when they look at you or if they're looking off to the side or fumbling, tells a lot,” Swetel said.

What doesn't tell a lot she said, is what candidates often say in a debate. "As voters, we hate empty promises and they'll do it just to get the vote."

She says she wouldn't hold it against a candidate who chooses not to debate. Portage County voters like Ira Brown are known for being independent. Even if there is a debate, he tells News 5 he won't be watching; prepared statements and party prose don't do it for him.

"I don't vote tickets, I vote people. Politicians, you can put a name on anything, I'm a politician, I'm a Republican, I'm a Democrat, what does that mean? What's here,” Brown said with his hand on his heart.