Portman, Strickland debate in Cleveland for U.S. Senate race

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and incumbent Sen. Robert Portman covered topics including Syrian refugees and the heroin epidemic

Ted Strickland and Rob Portman

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Incumbent Senator Robert Portman (R) and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (D), the top two contenders for the U.S. Senate, faced off in a debate Thursday night in Cleveland.

The first question had to do with the presidential election and many voters’ dissatisfaction with their options.

Strickland said Donald Trump is “unfit” to be president and that Hillary Clinton has the answers to the people’s problems.

Portman said that while Strickland claims Trump is “unfit” because of his demeanor and the things he’s said, the former governor doesn’t condemn Hillary Clinton for calling Trump supporters “deplorable.”

“I have consistently stood up when I thought something was said that was wrong. My opponent hasn’t done that, by the way,” Portman said. “I believe that words matter. Words mattered so much, I took the extraordinary step not to be able to support my Republican nominee for president.”

Even so, Strickland thinks Portman was too late in denouncing Trump.

“It wasn’t until it was in his political calculation to try to disassociate himself, that at the last minute shortly before this election, he said, ‘Well, I can’t vote for Donald Trump.'”

They also discussed the heroin epidemic and whether the federal government should play a role in finding solutions. Both agreed that it should.

Portman said he’s “taken the lead” by writing legislation to cover things like prevention, treatment and recovery. The senator claimed he convinced fellow lawmakers to see the epidemic as an emergency that needs funding.

Yet according to Strickland, Portman did not support providing those resources in the past, saying he “didn’t have the courage to cast a vote.”

Regarding the Supreme Court nominee, Portman said Congress needs to go through a fair hearing process and shouldn’t automatically block nominees.

Strickland countered by saying that Portman claims to be independent and bipartisan, but blocked President Obama’s nominee, Judge Garland, for months.

The two candidates disagreed on the country’s approach to helping Syrian refugees.

“I think we’ve let the people of Syria down,” Portman said, suggesting the U.S. create a safe, no-fly zone for them in their own country instead of bringing them here.

Strickland does not support sending ground troops to Syria, saying, “I believe our first obligation is to keep Americans safe.”

He did say Americans should “honor our values” and bring in refugees that are properly vetted.

The debate also covered topics including health care, race relations, climate change, guns and standardized testing in schools.