CLEVELAND — Candidates in Ohio's U.S. senate campaign sparred Sunday over health care, approaches to climate change, student loan debt, immigration, tariffs and gun control in the first of three debates.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci repeatedly criticized incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown as being a Washington insider, citing Brown's connections to Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer multiple times.
"The problem is Sherrod Brown loves Washington so much and Chuck Schumer that he continues to vote with those policies instead of trying to change those," Renacci said in one remark, answering a question about student loan debt.
Renacci referred to Brown's two-decade career as a congressman and senator, claiming he spends little time in Ohio.
Brown said he returns home to his Cleveland home each weekend. In turn, he criticized Renacci as unable to get things done in Washington even though Republicans control both the presidency and Congress.
"They can't seem to get anything done on immigration or on wages or on trade or on healthcare or on climate change," Brown said.
Late in the debate, both candidates were asked how the ugly Supreme Court nomination fight in the Senate over Judge Brett Kavanaugh could have been handled differently.
Brown said he decided against supporting Kavanaugh before the judge faced decades-old allegations of sexual assault.
As he has in ads during the campaign, Renacci then accused Brown of a different standard of conduct on domestic abuse, raising Brown's divorce in the 1980s when his then-wife accused him of domestic violence.
"That situation is a standard of conduct that Sherrod Brown now has violated, and he should not be sitting in a U.S. Senate seat any longer," Renacci said.
Brown's ex-wife, Larke Recchie, and her second husband have held fundraisers for Brown and repeatedly asked Republicans to stop using the divorce in political campaigns.
Brown told Renacci his ex-wife has called these attacks despicable. "You should be ashamed of yourself," Brown said to his opponent.
Asked about combatting climate change, Brown said Republicans have been derelict on the subject, saying the U.S. should never have pulled out of the Paris climate accord. He said he supports all forms of energy, including renewable energy.
By contrast, "Our state government and our federal government continue to be in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry," Brown said.
Renacci said he supports clean air and water, but he said the state can't walk away from the coal and natural gas industry.
"You eliminate coal and natural gas like the senator would like to do, and energy costs for hard-working Americans are going to go up," Renacci said.
On health care, Renacci said he supports coverage of preexisting conditions and keeping children on parents' plans until they're 26 years old. But he also said the cost of health care is out of control.
"Our health insurance since the Affordable Care Act has gone up 132 percent in this state," Renacci said. "It's unacceptable."
Brown said Renacci voted 20 times to repeal the federal health care act, which would have eliminated coverage for preexisting conditions.
Five million Ohioans have some kind of preexisting condition, and "If Congressman Renacci has his way, they could lose their coverage," Brown said.
On tariffs, Brown said he supports tariffs enacted by President Donald Trump if they're done correctly. He noted he has sided with Trump on "Buy America" policies, though he's also taken on Democratic presidents over trade policies. Brown said Renacci has supported every trade agreement that came before him while he's been in Congress.
Renacci said he supports Trump's use of tariffs in a trade war started by China, but he said tariffs should be used on a short-term, not long-term process.
He said he supported trade agreements "because Ohioans wanted it."
Renacci has aligned himself closely with Trump, whose administration urged Renacci to enter the Senate race after state Treasurer Josh Mandel dropped out because of his wife's health.
Renacci moved over from the governor's race to challenge Brown, a longtime fixture in Ohio politics who some see as a potential 2020 national-ticket candidate.
The two have debates planned Saturday in Columbus and Oct. 26 in Oxford.
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