Election 2018: Four Democrats spar in heated governor debate

Bill O’Neill, Joe Schiavoni, Richard Cordray and Dennis Kucinich

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Bill O’Neill, Joe Schiavoni, Richard Cordray and Dennis Kucinich

The four men running in the Democratic primary for Ohio governor agreed on plenty of issues but it sure didn’t sound like it in their first debate.

Bill O’Neill called Richard Cordray “Prince Richard,” saying that the Ohio Democratic Party is ready for a coronation.

Joe Schiavoni hammered Dennis Kucinich for repeatedly meeting with Syrian President Bashar al Assad. “There is no excuse for meeting with a guy who is poisoning kids in his country,” he said. (Kucinich defended meeting Assad in pursuit of world peace.)

Cordray hit Kucinich for his previous call for the impeachment of President Obama.

The 90-minute sparring session marked the first debate with the newly shuffled line-up of Democrats: Cordray, Kucinich, O’Neill and Schiavoni. The three women who had been in the race along with Schiavoni each made an exit — Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former state representative Connie Pillich and former U.S. representative Betty Sutton abandoned their gubernatorial campaigns.

Related: Democratic governor candidates debate jobs, taxes, education

The televised debate, held at a Toledo area high school, covered topics ranging from gun control, the opiate addiction crisis, legalizing marijuana, right to work and President Donald Trump.

Right to work: Each said they'd veto any right-to-work bill that reaches their desk and that they would fight for workers. Cordray and Kucinich said they support raising the minimum wage.

Gun control: O'Neill said he wants to require AR-15 owners register their weapons and get a permit from local police; Kucinich called for a ban on assault-style weapons; Schiavoni supports more school safety and services and holding a conversation about an assault weapon ban; and Cordray, who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association, said he supports tightening gun laws and keeping guns away from criminals, people with mental illness and domestic abusers.

Legal marijuana: Kucinich and O'Neill called for full legalization of marijuana. Cordray said Ohio should only take that step with a statewide vote.

Trump: Each said they'd work with Trump when he is right and oppose him when he is wrong. Kucinich added that he supports the proposed tariffs on steel that the president is pushing.

Medicaid expansion: They support this program but O'Neill and Kucinich called for an expansion of Medicare to cover all Ohioans. Schiavoni and Cordray said they'd like to know how that could be funded.

“The most important thing we can do in Columbus is change the numbers. If we don’t win this year then everything we say on this stage tonight is so just so much hot air, it doesn’t mean a thing. We have to win this year,” Cordray said.

The winner of the May 8 Democratic primary will go up against the winner of the GOP primary, either Attorney General Mike DeWine or Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

DeWine, who won the endorsement of the Ohio Republican Party, has indicated he won’t debate Taylor before the primary, saying he’s more interested in debating in the fall.

Who are the Democrats running for governor?

Richard Cordray, 58, of Grove City, is the former state treasurer and state attorney general. He quit his job as director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to run for governor. His campaign is focusing on "kitchen table" issues such as wages, consumer protection and jobs. Fun Fact: He is a five-time Jeopardy! champion.

Dennis Kucinich, 71, of Cleveland, has been an on-again, off-again Ohio officeholder for nearly 50 years, starting with his election to Cleveland City Council in 1969. He served in Congress from 1998 to 2012, when Democrat Marcy Kaptur beat him in a primary after his district was eliminated. Fun Fact: Kucinich has met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at least three times.

Bill O'Neill, 70, of Chagrin Falls, is a Vietnam War veteran and former justice on the Ohio Supreme Court. He is running on an anti-abortion, pro-legal marijuana platform and wants to use tax revenue from legal pot to re-open state mental health hospitals. He made headlines last year when he boasted on Facebook about sleeping with 50 women. Fun Fact: He became a registered nurse in 2002, 22 years after he got his law degree.

Joe Schiavoni, 38, of Boardman, is an attorney who has been a state senator from the Mahoning Valley since 2008. Schiavoni is campaigning on reforming charter schools, protecting worker rights, keeping expanded Medicaid and implementing gun control measures. He is also pushing for more reliable internet access in rural Ohio. Fun Fact: As a boxer, he won the Golden Gloves tournament in Youngstown in 1995.

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