Trump, Biden to debate in Ohio today. Here’s what local leaders hope they hear from the candidates

Defense spending, trade, health care and workforce development seen as the big local issues.

Defense spending, trade policy, health care and workforce development are among the issues Dayton area business leaders and political experts said they hope President Donald Trump and presidential hopeful Joe Biden will address in their first debate tonight .

Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic will jointly host the first presidential debate of 2020 from 9 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. It will be moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News.

The Ohio backdrop will likely influence the candidates' talking points, Wright State political science Professor Lee Hannah said.

“They won’t have an arena filled with people like they normally do but I think they still will make a lot of overtures to Ohio,” Hannah said. “Especially given that … Ohio may not be the pivotal state but I think the Midwest will be the pivotal region.”

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One of the six topics planned for the debate is the economy. Some of the most pressing economic issues germane to the Miami Valley, Ohio and the wider Midwest include those that affect manufacturing and agriculture, said University of Dayton political science Professor Christopher Devine.

Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said “attainment of skilled workforce is the No. 1 priority for the Dayton-area business community.”

Chuck Dryer, chair of the government relations committee for the Dayton Regional Manufacturers Association, agreed that workforce development is near the top of his list of priorities. Dryer wants the federal government to invest in and encourage trade school education.

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Kershner added that immigration reform is a topic impacting Dayton’s workforce needs.

“Dayton employers need and want to hire legal immigrants, but they need immigration reform that can support those opportunities,” Kershner said. “Businesses have workforce needs and they want to hire the best people for the job, and sometimes that person is a legal immigrant.”

Speaking at Wright Bros. Aero at the Dayton International Airport last week during a campaign event called “Fighting for the American Worker,” Trump lauded his trade policies he said benefit Ohio manufacturers.

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For local manufacturers, the tariffs implemented under the Trump administration put some local businesses through a short-term rough patch, Dryer said. But recently, until COVID-19 hit, the price of materials began leveling out and he said Dayton businesses began “seeing those policies doing what (Trump) said they were going to do.”

Tariffs and trade policies are a big issue for the manufacturing industry, Devine said, as well as the agricultural industry, which is prevalent across the Miami Valley, if not Dayton itself. It’s difficult in recent years for voters to parse where Republicans and Democrats stand on trade, he said, and he hopes the candidates will clarify their positions. Traditionally, Republicans have supported free trade policies but Trump has done the opposite. The Barack Obama-Biden administration pursued free trade policies.

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“Here is an issue that’s directly relevant to many people in Ohio … (Voters) may be actually trying to figure out what to do," Devine said. "What are Donald Trump’s policies on trade? … What do the Democrats stand for these days? Joe Biden’s helped pursue free trade policies. Is that what he stands for or will he support more protectionist policies, at least for some industries that may be really important to the Miami Valley or Southwest Ohio?”

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Defense spending is another topic that hits home that local leaders will watch for in the debate, Devine said. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is the largest single-site employer in the state of Ohio, and Kershner pointed out that investment in Department of Defense infrastructure has far-reaching implications for the regional economy. Even so, Devine does not expect defense spending to take center stage at the Tuesday debate.

“We haven’t heard nearly as much about foreign policy of late,” he said. "There’s been so much with the virus, the Supreme Court nomination and the economy generally.

An issue not as unique to Southwestern Ohio but of high importance to the Miami Valley residents who have been hard hit by the economic ripples from the coronavirus pandemic is COVID-19 response and health care, Devine said. Those two issues are linked, he said, in part because the economic downturn will have led to many people losing their health insurance. One of the five debate topics will be COVID-19.

Devine said both candidates need to clarify their stances on health care. Trump has said he supports repealing the Affordable Care Act but he also has expressed support for certain elements, such as guaranteeing coverage despite preexisting conditions. Biden has talked about building on the Affordable Care Act but it’s not clear to what extent.

The debate will consist of six approximately 15 minute segments on the following topics: Trump and Biden’s records; the Supreme Court; COVID-19; the economy; race and violence in U.S. cities; and the integrity of the election.

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