U.S. Reps. Jim Renacci and Betty Sutton disagree on health care, abortion and when and where to hold a debate.
The two sides have been wrangling for several weeks on proposed debate venues and have so far agreed on only one — the City Club in Cleveland, which is outside the 16th Congressional District they are battling to represent.
Renacci sent a letter to Sutton on Monday, requesting a face-to-face meeting between himself and Sutton or their campaign managers to try to agree on additional debates. Past campaigns for this district have featured multiple debates.
“While we may disagree strongly over the best course for our nation’s future, I am confident we can come to an agreement on a matter of this nature that is satisfactory to us both,” Renacci, R-Wadsworth, wrote in the one-page letter.
Anthony DeAngelo, Sutton’s campaign spokesman, said the campaign is open to discussing debates.
“We will be glad to work with his campaign to settle on debate times and locations,” DeAngelo said. “We have offered two debates that he hasn’t agreed to yet. We are still waiting to hear back as well from him. His campaign is more than welcome to let us know if he would like to do debates or not.”
Renacci and Sutton, D-Copley Township, who wound up in the same congressional district when boundaries were redrawn after the census, are locked in one of the hottest and probably most expensive races of this election. The debate on debates has been building for some time, with the campaigns even sending out dueling news releases — one day apart — that accused the other of trying to duck debates.
“Sutton refuses to debate Renacci in Ohio’s 16th District,” read the headline on one of the releases, while the other proclaimed, “Sutton agrees to three debates, calls on Renacci to join.”
So far, Renacci and Sutton have agreed to the City Club debate Oct. 10. Cleveland is just outside of the district and has the largest media market in the area. The 16th District includes all of Wayne County and parts of Summit, Stark, Portage, Medina and Cuyahoga counties.
Renacci has proposed a debate hosted by the Wooster Chamber of Commerce that would be inside the district, but Sutton has declined. Renacci pointed out in his letter that former U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, D-Alliance, participated in debates hosted by the Wooster chamber in 2008 and 2010.
DeAngelo said the campaign is concerned the debate wouldn’t be impartial and nonpartisan because the U.S. Chamber is supporting Renacci, including doing a recent advertising purchase. Sutton’s campaign is proposing a debate at the Kent State University Stark Campus in Jackson Township, which is in the 16th, and another hosted by the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at another yet-to-be-determined location in the district. (A 16th-District debate was held at UA’s Medina County University Center in 2008.)
James Slepian, Renacci’s campaign spokesman, said his office doesn’t know anything about the Kent State debate other than what the Sutton campaign has said about it, having never talked to the proposed host. He said he isn’t sure where the Bliss debate would be held or why Sutton won’t agree to a Chamber debate when Boccieri was willing.
“If it was good enough for him, I don’t understand why, all of the sudden, it has become a partisan affair,” Slepian said.
Slepian said the campaign has been in talks with the Repository and WHBC (1480-AM), which have previously hosted 16th District debates.
Both Renacci and Sutton have agreed to be part of an event on Oct. 6, hosted by Jefferson Action, which is using a citizen-jury process to evaluate how well the 16th District candidates address pressing economic issues. The event won’t be a debate, with jurors interviewing each candidate separately.
Slepian said the campaign wants to move past the debate issue onto more pressing matters.
“Jim believes the campaign needs to be about issues — not about debates, but about the issues that will be discussed in those debates,” he said.
“I hope he [Renacci] joins us at the debates and gives voters a clear, unbiased, nonpolitical look at the views of both candidates,” he said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.