For the first time in more than 30 years, an Ohio gubernatorial debate will not include a Republican candidate — something that party opponents are criticizing, while an expert said it might be the right move for the GOP.
Democratic candidate Ed FitzGerald and Green Party candidate Anita Rios are set to debate at the City Club of Cleveland on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Kasich, the Republican incumbent, declined to participate, according to the Club’s website.
This is the first Ohio gubernatorial debate that won’t feature one of the major parties since 1978, according to The Toledo Blade. It is also the first to feature a Green Party candidate, according to a press release from the Rios campaign.
Rios, the aforementioned Green Party candidate, said Kasich’s choice to not take part is an indicator of how the political process has “eroded.”
“I am not surprised. I am very disgusted, however,” Rios said during a Tuesday phone call with The Lantern. “I think that politics has become a game, a very cynical game, and this is one demonstration of that.”
Kasich’s campaign, however, said it chose not to participate because it couldn’t settle on a date for the debate with the opposing side, saying it had “moved on.”
“Our debate team offered two proposals and two dates, all of which was rejected by the other campaign,” said Connie Wehrkamp, spokeswoman for Kasich Taylor for Ohio, in a Tuesday email.
“After their campaign completely imploded and they gave away what little campaign cash they had, the other side issued an an (sic) ultimatum, so we moved on,” Wehrkamp said.
Wehrkamp said Ohioans can hear from Kasich during a televised public forum scheduled for next week.
Still, Vladimir Kogan, an Ohio State political science assistant professor, said Kasich decided to forgo the event based on his large lead in the polls. Kasich led FitzGerald by an average of 22 points on Oct. 1, according to Real Clear Politics, a website dedicated to political news, commentary and analysis.
“I think (Kasich) not being there is certainly a smart, strategic decision,” Kogan said. “Why do anything risky when you’re clearly ahead and you’re going to win?”
Issues have cropped up for FitzGerald’s campaign a few times. In August, news broke that FitzGerald went at least five years without a valid permanent driver’s license, shortly after news broke that police had found him in a car with a woman who was not his wife at 4:30 a.m. in 2012.
FitzGerald Neuhardt for Ohio didn’t immediately respond to a Tuesday morning email and call asking about the debate.
Regardless of the state of the race, Rios said the debate is an important service to Ohio voters.
“It is a very cynical political calculation on the governor’s part, believing that he doesn’t really have to dignify the other candidates with his presence,” Rios said. “Because he thinks that he probably has this election wrapped.”
And that might be the case, OSU political science professor emeritus Paul Beck said.
“(Kasich is) gonna win the election, there’s no question about that unless something … catastrophic were to occur between now and Election Day,” Beck said.
If anyone has something to gain from this debate, it’s Rios, Beck said, because the debate gives her media time.
Along with the exposure, Beck said Rios might also get a bump in protest votes, which are votes that show a lack of support for Kasich, even though Rios probably won’t win the election.
Kogan said, however, the lack of competition will have a bigger effect on voter turnout than a bump for the Green Party.
After all, voter turnout is a problem, said Vincent Hayden, an OSU student and member of the OSU College Democrats.
“The real issue that we have is getting people excited to vote,” Hayden said.
Hayden said while FitzGerald has not been a perfect candidate, the election has thus far been focused on unimportant issues. He said there should be a chance to hear from every candidate.
“Ohioans have a right to hear from every gubernatorial candidate in a public forum, and especially one that’s already elected to public office,” Hayden said. “People have said that (FitzGerald’s) campaign’s dead, that it’s the joke of the Democratic Party nationwide. But for a candidate to go out there, and still speak, I think shows credibility.”
The College Republicans at OSU declined to comment.
And while Beck said there is almost an assured win for Kasich at this point, he also said the loser of the race might be the people of Ohio.
“The people who actually suffer from the lack of debates are the voters, who don’t have the opportunity to hear what the pros and cons are of particular positions,” he said.
Beck also said he does not think it is responsible for the governor to skip the debate.
“It’s unfortunate. I mean, I think that debates, particularly in a campaign where there is no money for opposition advertising, is important in addressing some of the issues that are at stake,” Beck said.
Meanwhile, Kogan said the debate will have “absolutely zero impact” on the political awareness of the public.
“The people that watch the debate or even read about the debate are people who are political junkies, who already know a lot and whose mind is not gonna be changed by the debate,” Kogan said.
He added that this was the right move for the Kasich campaign, even though some might want to hold the governor more accountable.
“It’s not his job to educate the public. His job is to win the election,“ Kogan said.