Senate, gubernatorial debates canceled in Ohio after GOP opts out

An independent commission in Ohio canceled a few debates in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races on Wednesday because Republican candidates refused to participate.

The Ohio Debate Commission expressed disappointment that neither GOP Governor Mike DeWine nor Republican Senate candidate JD Vance accepted their invitations — pending since May — by a 5 p.m. deadline on Tuesday.

The group said it would not hold so-called “empty seat” or “empty podium” debates — an option some host organizations have chosen in an era of growing skepticism about the political debate tradition.

Dan Moulthrop, chairman of the committee’s board of directors, said “democracy pays the price” by canceling the debates.

Both Democratic governor-candidate Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, and US Representative Tim Ryan, the Democratic Senate candidate, had accepted their invitations.

Republicans did not call the committee impartial, with the Republican National Committee issuing a statement Tuesday accusing Jill Miller Zimon, the executive director, of “a long history of anti-Republican rhetoric and activism.”

Zimon’s affiliation as a Democrat is no secret in her home state. She is a prolific freelance writer and property developer based in the Cleveland area. She has championed and served in public positions, as well as donating to Democratic candidates over the years, including $250 to Ryan in 2014.

She said on Wednesday that she has abstained from partisan activity since joining the impartial committee in the spring of 2018, defending the organization’s events as professional and impartial.

The panel collaborates with many community groups, media organizations and universities throughout Ohio.

Ryan said in a statement Wednesday that Vance has also not committed to two other proposed debates hosted by TV stations in northeast and southwest Ohio. The Vance campaign said these two events are still under negotiation, and a third to be held in Cleveland.

Whaley cast DeWine as a coward who wouldn’t defend his record. She, the Ohio Democratic Party and an anti-DeWine PAC have been hammering the governor for weeks for not taking on Whaley.

DeWine has said Ohioans already know him and his positions well. The 75-year-old governor was not only one of the state’s most well-known politicians, but also spent months at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, appearing on daily state-wide broadcasts.