The presence Tuesday night of 12 Democratic presidential candidates at Otterbein University in Westerville proves Ohio is still an important battleground state for the upcoming presidential elections, Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, told the Daily Times prior to that evening’s nationally televised presidential candidate debate.
“I take this as a very positive sign that the Democrats have not abandoned Ohio,” Sykes said despite the state’s reputation for being a red state which during the last election helped put President Donald Trump into the White House.
Ohio long has had a reputation for being a decisive state, and Sykes noted no President in her lifetime has won an election without taking Ohio. Sykes further believes Republicans are not taking the state for granted as shown, in Sykes opinion, by Trump’s several visits to the state in the past six months.
“The road to the White House still runs through Ohio, I firmly believe that,” Sykes said.
As for the significance of the debate itself, Sykes offered the opinion debates are wonderful opportunities for voters to “hear for themselves the candidates’ goals and objectives, how they plan to lead this country.”
While Trump supporters consistently brag of what they call a strong economy, Sykes said that strong economy has not necessarily filtered down to Ohio. She claimed while Ohio and the rest of the country have experienced job growth, Ohio has not, for example, seen much in the way of increased wages. Even with that in mind, how do the Democrats win votes in the largely conservative, Republican area of southern Ohio?
“We just have to spend more time there and express our genuine concern for the people who live there,” Sykes said. “It’s about sharing our vision for a more prosperous and secure life.”
Even to the most objective of viewers, the current President is undoubtedly a divisive figure. For her part, Sykes acknowledged some folks are simply die hard Trump supporters, no questions asked. However, she believes, for Democrats, there are ways around that circumstance.
“One step is to not be distracted by sort of the noise in the background,” Sykes said regarding Democratic strategy in fighting Trump and his true believers. She added locally, Democrats need to focus not on Trump, but on practical issues important to Ohioans.
“We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by side issues or by tweets and the divisive rhetoric. We need to be focused on our families and our communities and get the message out about what we can provide for them.”
Tuesday night’s debate was sponsored and moderated by CNN and the New York Times, two of Trump’s favorite targets in his complaints about “fake news.” Sykes expressed a hope voters and viewers – even Republicans who might buy into the idea of “fake news” – can look past that rhetoric and listen to what candidates have to say about who they will be as president instead of focusing on who is asking the questions and what cable channel is carrying the debate.
In addition to the economy, Sykes expressed hope healthcare would be a topic of the debates. She said it would be irresponsible, especially in Ohio, not to talk about the effects of the opioid epidemic. Sykes also expected the question of impeaching Trump to be raised during the debate.
The topics of discussion among the large crowd of Democrats – according to the Associated Press the largest number of candidates ever to take part in a modern presidential debate – probably didn’t fall in line completely with what Sykes foresaw or for what she was hoping. However, certainly, healthcare did become a large topic of conversation.
Candidate Elizabeth Warren repeatedly came under attack during Tuesday’s debate as rivals accused the Massachusetts senator of ducking questions about the cost of Medicare for All and her signature “wealth tax” plan.
The pile-on was the clearest sign yet Warren has a new status in the crowded Democratic primary: a front-runner in the contest to take on Trump next year.
The night’s confrontations were mostly fought on familiar terrain for Democrats, who have spent months sparring over the future of health care with moderates pressing for a measured approach while Warren and Bernie Sanders call for a dramatic, government-funded overhaul of the insurance market.
But unlike Sanders, Warren refused to say whether she would raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for All — a stance that’s increasingly difficult to maintain given her more prominent status.
“I appreciate Elizabeth’s work but, again, the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something you can actually get done,” said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, added: “We heard it tonight. A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question that didn’t get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.”
The debate touched on foreign policy, too, a subject that has dominated the news in recent weeks as Trump said he was withdrawing most U.S. forces from Syria and then Turkey invaded the northern part of the country to attack Kurdish fighters. The Democratic presidential candidates denounced the president for abandoning Kurdish forces there, who are U.S. allies.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has spent months facing sharp criticism from the rest of the field during debates, but he saw few candidates engage with him on Tuesday. Still, he struggled to fully explain why his newly promised ethics plan to prevent conflicts of interest involving his relatives wasn’t applied to his son Hunter when he was hired in 2014 as a director for a Ukrainian energy company.
On Sunday, Biden had vowed “no one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in on meetings as if they’re a cabinet member, will in fact have any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or a foreign country.”
But CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked, “If it’s not OK for a president’s family to be involved in foreign businesses, why was it OK for your son when you were vice president?”
Biden faltered some before offering, “My son did nothing wrong, I did nothing wrong.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.