Final Debate Toned Down

CINCINNATI (AP) – Ohio’s Democrat incumbent and his GOP challenger focused much of their final U.S. Senate debate Thursday night on their differences on issues from abortion to the auto industry bailout, finally toning things down at the very end of their often-heated exchanges.

Sen. Sherrod Brown described himself as a fighter for the middle class and steadfast supporter of women’s choice on abortion, while Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel said he would help economic growth with lower taxes and seek “common ground” on abortion. Both said the other had extreme positions on abortion, an issue drawing added attention this week nationally and in Ohio.

“Unlike Josh Mandel, I trust Ohio women to make their own decisions on their health care,” said Brown, a first-term Democrat who said Mandel takes extreme positions such as opposing abortion without making exceptions for rape and incest.

Mandel said he would allow an abortion only to save a woman’s life, and is strongly against any taxpayer dollars being used in abortion funding.

“Sherrod Brown is an extremist on this issue,” said Mandel, who said he would focus on areas for “common ground” such as making the legal process for adoption easier.

Their exchanges Thursday night weren’t as vitriolic as their second debate last week, although peppered with sarcasm. Mandel gave a somewhat conciliatory closing, praising Brown’s wife, journalist Connie Schultz, and his own wife, Ilana. Brown thanked him and said he had heard good things about Mandel’s wife.

“There’s not going to be any punches thrown,” Mandel assured viewers, saying it was part of America’s strength that the two could debate passionately and then shake hands at the end without someone being “thrown into a pit” or jail. He cited his Marine experience in two tours of Iraq and pledged he would be the best fighter in Washington for Ohioans.

Brown said he had kept his 2006 promise to champion the middle class as senator.

“I renew the promise that I will continue to fight for the middle class,” Brown said, touting repeatedly the auto industry bailout that he supported – another issue Obama has highlighted this week, especially when campaigning in Ohio. Brown said the help saved many thousands of Ohio jobs in its auto-making plants and for workers that make auto components around the state.

He said because of the help for auto-makers, families around Ohio were able to keep their homes and send their children to college.

Mandel said a private sector approach would have worked, without causing some workers in Ohio to have their pensions cut.

“I don’t think we should be using your tax dollars to bail out Wall Street banks and large corporations,” he said.

Mandel again repeatedly accused Brown of “Washingtonspeak” as he called the 59-year-old incumbent a career politician and part of a Washington that “is broken.” Brown repeatedly said Mandel dodged taking positions while relying on “poll-tested talking points.” He told Mandel he would have to vote “yes or no” in Washington, while adding: “Not that your chances of going to the Senate are that high, Josh.”

Brown has depicted Mandel, 35, as an opportunist more focused on his next job than doing the one he has.