What we learned from Ohio’s feisty Democratic governor debate

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Cleveland.

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Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Cleveland.

The four men running in the Democratic primary for governor jabbed and sparred for 90-minutes in a debate this week. Here are key things we learned about the candidates and the issues.

1. Dennis Kucinich has met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad multiple times over the past decade as a Congressman and as a FoxNews contributor. As recently as April 2017, Kucinich expressed skepticism that Assad used chemical weapons. That drew a rebuke from state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, who is also running in the primary: "There is no excuse for meeting with a guy who is poisoning kids in his country." Kucinich defended the meetings, saying he did so in the interest of world peace. "You have to be ready to march into hell for a heavenly cause," Kucinich said.

2. Richard Cordray is in good standing with the National Rifle Association — for now. The former Ohio attorney general earned an A rating from the NRA in 2010, the last year Cordray was on the ballot in Ohio. Cordray, who campaigned on a pro-gun platform in previous races, said in the debate that he supports tightening gun laws and keeping guns away from criminals, people with mental illness and domestic abusers. Kucinich, who supports an assault weapons ban, criticized Cordray for defending a state law that took away cities' authority to adopt their own gun control laws. Former Ohio Supreme Court justice Bill O'Neill, another candidate, reminded the debate audience that Cordray was NRA-endorsed when he lost the attorney general's race to Republican Mike DeWine.

3. Bill O'Neill, who is an attorney and a registered nurse, wants to legalize marijuana and use tax revenue from that to reopen state mental hospitals. Kucinich, who believes marijuana is a path to kicking opioid addiction and pain relief, agreed that pot should be legal and taxed. Cordray said Ohio should only take that step with a statewide vote.

4. Joe Schiavoni, 38, says it's time for a new generation of leadership that knows how to work with the opposition and when to fight. In the Ohio Senate for nine years, Schiavoni said he knows how to work across the aisle. "This is my life," he said. "Every time I drive my car from Youngstown to Columbus, I'm thinking about how we can get things done for the people. People don't want you to just go down there and make arguments and fight with people. They want to see results."

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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.

Related: Republicans running for Ohio governor talk guns, religion and Kasich

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.

Also appearing on the Democratic primary ballot are Paul Ray of Alliance and Larry Ealy of Dayton. Neither candidate has contacted the Ohio Democratic Party and did not participate in the debate.

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