The Democratic Party’s toss-up between seasoned, established leaders and fresh-faced, progressive newcomers is not confined to just the presidential field: It is playing out in the battle for Ohio’s 3rd District seat, which includes Ohio State’s campus.

Incumbent Rep. Joyce Beatty and challenger Morgan Harper participated in a Democratic debate forum Sunday. Held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Columbus, it was the first debate between the two candidates for the Democratic nomination for the March 17 primary.

Harper, a 36-year-old first-time candidate and former adviser to Richard Cordray at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has run a grassroots campaign funded entirely by individual contributions – a fact of which she says she is proud. 

“I want to share this vision with people,” Harper said to The Lantern. “People need to understand that we cannot continue on with the status quo. If we’re going to get to the place of protecting the environment, make sure everyone has jobs that pay enough to live, housing, we need to be pushing harder and also have politicians that are free of corporate money and are gonna fight to get it done.”

Beatty has been Ohio’s District 3 representative since she was elected in 2012, and before that she served five terms in the Ohio House of Representatives. She pointed to her extensive legislative history — including her seat on the House Committee on Financial Services and as Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion — as evidence of her dedication to her constituents.

“Yes, I am here to answer your questions, to fight for you,” Beatty said in her opening statement. “And to tell you, I believe if you look at my track record and my proven experience, I will continue to fight for you.”

 Democratic candidates for Ohio’s 3rd District Rep. Joyce Beatty and Morgan Harper at the democratic forum Feb. 2. Credit: Sarah Szilagy | Lantern Reporter

Throughout the debate, the candidates referred back to their respective strengths: Beatty’s being a longtime incumbent who has supported policies such as “Obamacare” and voted against its repeal, and Harper’s being an anti-establishment millennial whose life, growing up in a low-income household as the adopted daughter of an immigrant, has shaped her into a strong progressive. 

It’s these differences that voters on each side of the debate said they are looking for in their candidate.

“She’s just very — a nice person and a genuine person,” Parker Gutman, an intern and volunteer for Morgan Harper’s campaign, said of Harper. “That’s who should be in Congress. We shouldn’t be having these elites who think that they’re better than us; we should have people of the people who are coming down and representing us instead of anything else.”

Jen House, president of Ohio Young Democrats, said she supports Beatty because of her ongoing support of the Ohio Young Democrats.

“She has been there side by side, helping those of us who are interested in running, those of us who are interested in taking on party leadership roles and really offering guidance and support,” House said. “In addition, she’s one of the most effective congresspeople in the United States.”

The candidates explored issues they think are most relevant to the greater Columbus community. Both touched on health care and affordable housing and agreed that economic segregation is one of Columbus’ biggest issues. According to a 2015 report by the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, Columbus is the fourth-most economically segregated metropolitan area in the U.S.

Harper said she would back the Green New Deal to help solve economic disparity. The new deal is a series of bills introduced in 2019 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts designed to address climate change and the income gap by cutting back on fossil fuel emissions and promoting growth in the renewable energy sector.

“I am backing the Green New Deal, which would include the job guarantee and create living wage jobs for people — over $20 an hour — that would enable us to build our public transportation, reduce our carbon emissions and make sure that we have a planet that is inhabitable for generations moving forward,” Harper said. 

For Beatty, the key to addressing economic inequality is increasing financial literacy and opportunities among minorities and women. 

“We have to stop using the term ‘minority supplier’ and being happy with the small contract,” she said.

Beatty said the government’s role is to fight for fair pensions and salaries for minorities who she said have historically been left out of large contracts. 

“That’s the only way, if you start at the top and bring it down, and you put more of us in the room, and more of us getting those larger jobs and money, we bring it back home,” Beatty said.

A second debate has not been scheduled yet. But Harper said she hopes she and Beatty can sit down and discuss their policies again before the primaries. 

“I want to have as many forums as possible because I want everyone who’s living in the 3rd District to know that they have a choice on March 17, and that they should choose the future,” Harper said to The Lantern.

The Ohio primary elections will take place March 17. The last day for voter registration, including updating voting addresses, is Feb. 17. Students can register to vote online at