Elyria Chronicle: DeWine should debate Whaley

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is still dodging what should be the bare minimum for a gubernatorial candidate: debating his opponent.

DeWine, a Republican seeking a second term, has thus far refused to agree to debate his Democratic opponent, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

“We’ll see,” DeWine said Friday, the Ohio Capital Journal reported. “I suspect there will be joint appearances that some of the newspapers will be having. Those will be available to people to watch live.”

He went on to insist that he’s accessible to Ohioans and the news media.

“I’m out every day talking with the people in the state of Ohio,” he said. “There has been no governor that has had more press conferences than I have.”

Indeed, DeWine made a similar point in Wellington during an interview with a reporter.

“I found fairs are just great places to see people, talk with people — people are very casual,” he said. “They don’t hesitate to come up and tell me what they think, so it’s always good.”

That’s all well and good, but talking to fairgoers and reporters isn’t the same thing as sharing a debate stage with Whaley.

A debate would allow the public to see how both candidates respond to questions and push back against each other. It would give voters a chance to hear and evaluate the positions, priorities and promises that each candidate would bring to leading a state of more than 11.7 million people.

Whaley suggested that DeWine was trying to avoid hard questions about his pro-life stance on abortion and the alleged bribery scandal surrounding the House Bill 6 nuclear power plant bailout.

“He knows those answers aren’t good for him,” she said last week. “We’re ready to go. You name the time and place, and we’ll be there.”

This certainly isn’t the first time that DeWine has hemmed and hawed about debating his opponents.

He did a disservice to Republican voters when he refused to debate his primary opponents, including former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and farmer Joe Blystone.

While it’s true that DeWine and Renacci faced off during an endorsement interview with The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editorial board, that’s not the same thing as a televised formal debate.

DeWine took a similar approach four years ago when he refused to debate his primary opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. They, too, squared off in front of The PD’s editorial board.

He did, however, debate his Democratic opponent, Richard Cordray, in 2018. DeWine went on to take 50.39 percent of the vote, compared to Cordray’s 46.68 percent. (A few minor candidates managed to snag miniscule portions of the vote.)

According to the RealClear Politics average of polls, DeWine is comfortably ahead in this year’s race, with 49.3 percent support, compared to Whaley’s 33.7 percent.

Compare that to the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati. Republican candidate J.D. Vance holds a much narrower lead, with 45.7 percent support. Vance’s Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, has 42 percent.

The leading candidate in a race might see a strategic advantage in not elevating his or her opponent by appearing together on the debate stage, but Vance has agreed to debate Ryan. Twice.

True, Ryan’s strong campaign has put Vance on the defensive, and he’s looking for a way to revitalize his political fortunes.

Regardless of whatever perceived advantage there might be in not debating, voters deserve a chance to compare the candidates and their positions side-by-side.

The best format to permit that is a debate.