CLEVELAND: U.S. Reps. Jim Renacci and Betty Sutton told an audience Wednesday that neither is happy about the redistricting process that forced them to vie for the 16th Congressional District seat this fall.
The candidates, not surprisingly, disagree on what to do to improve the process.
Sutton said during a City Club of Cleveland debate that she supports Issue 2, the statewide ballot issue that would put a new panel in place to redraw voting lines every 10 years. Renacci said people who are unhappy with new districts should tell the politicians who made the boundaries and, if they don’t like the response, vote those people out of office.
Sutton accused Renacci of being involved in the redistricting process, which his fellow Republicans control 4-1 as a result of holding every statewide office that is part of the State Apportionment Board and the majority in the Ohio House.
“I would love to hear the facts,” Renacci said of Sutton’s claim. “It’s factless.”
The redistricting process was among numerous topics Renacci, R-Wadsworth, and Sutton, D-Copley Township, sparred over during the hourlong event — the only time they will face off in a traditional debate format during this campaign. The two candidates were unable to agree on proposed debates that would have been inside the district. The Cleveland debate was outside the 16th District’s new boundaries.
As one of only two districts in the U.S. pitting current congressional incumbents, the Renacci-Sutton race has drawn national and international attention.
The candidates have raised a combined $3.6 million, and outside groups have poured more than $4.2 million more into the race to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Media in attendance at the sold-out debate included the New York Times, C-SPAN and a Danish newspaper.
From the start, the candidates sought to emphasize their clear differences.
Sutton characterized herself as a champion for the middle class, seniors and veterans, and said Renacci is a businessman looking out for other rich people and lobbyists.
“Special interests have plenty of representatives,” she said. “This daughter of a boilermaker will be there on your side. I represent you.”
Renacci identified himself as a successful, self-made businessman with humble roots. He called Sutton a career politician who wants to raise taxes and boost government spending.
“She believes in things I don’t agree with,” he said. “I don’t agree government should be bigger.”
From there, the duo took on a long list of weighty topics, including jobs, taxes, the federal deficit, health care, Medicare, Social Security, federal regulations and support for veterans. They rarely found common ground.
Renacci said he doesn’t think it’s the government’s role to create jobs. This needs to be done through the business sector, with government getting out of the way. To thrive, he said, businesses need “certainty and predictability,” which is not the case currently.
Sutton said an investment is needed in the country’s infrastructure, which will help create work and will use “American iron and steel.” Loopholes must be closed that reward companies that ship jobs overseas. She asked Renacci to join her in supporting legislation to rein in Chinese currency regulations.
Several times during the debate, the two questioned facts the other cited, including data Renacci used to show how he thinks Sutton’s “Cash for Clunkers” program wasn’t successful.
“It raised the cost of used cars, putting a tax on the living poor,” Renacci said. “Farmers in Wayne County can’t find used cars.”
Sutton responded by saying several independent groups lauded the program for providing a needed jump-start to auto sales. She added that she received an award for the program from the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association, a group that has counted Renacci, a former car dealership owner, among its members.
Both candidates ended the debate with a story from the campaign trail.
Sutton told about a letter she recently received from a single mother from Copley, who recounted how her life has gotten better, thanks in part to Pell grants that have helped her and her daughters go to college.
“I think she deserves someone on her side,” Sutton said.
Renacci recounted a recent firefighters’ awards dinner he attended in Canton, where a man sitting at his table told him he had never voted for a Republican. He said they talked at length and, after the dinner, the man told him: “I’m voting for you, and so is my wife.”
Both candidates had supporters in the audience, which became obvious when the crowd was permitted to applaud.
Sutton’s supporters included a large group of union workers, who began chanting “Betty! Betty!” when the debate ended.
Phil Gauer, the retired president of the Akron firefighters union who now is working for the Ohio Association of Fire Fighters, said Sutton helped secure the federal funds that returned laid-off Akron firefighters to work. He said she “has a base of blue-collar workers” backing her.
Ron Tanski of Medina, a retired superintendent of Morton Salt in Rittman, said Sutton’s ideas sound like “socialism.” He likes the fact Renacci is a businessman “and brings that expertise to the table.”
After the debate, Renacci said he thought it went well and he had no regrets about anything he didn’t have the chance to say.
“Our views are different. That showed today,” he said.
Sutton said she wished she had more time to talk about Renacci’s claims about Medicare and to expand on how “magnificent the veterans and troops are.” She said she has visited Afghanistan, Iraq and the Walter Reed Military Medical Center, which treats injured veterans.
“They take my breath away with their dedication,” she said.
The debate can be seen via the City Club’s website, www.cityclub.org. Click the “Video Archive” link.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.