State Party Chairmen Debate Top Issues Going Into Election

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Ohio Dem. Party Chairman Chris Redfern (left) and Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett debated various issues at the Columbus Metropolitan Club on Wednesday.(Photo: Karen Kasler, Ohio Public Radio)
Ohio Dem. Party Chairman Chris Redfern (left) and Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett debated various issues at the Columbus Metropolitan Club on Wednesday.(Photo: Karen Kasler, Ohio Public Radio)

The fall election is still about five months away, but the chairs of the state’s two major political parties are talking like it’s just around the corner.

A Wednesday panel discussion was the first time Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern and Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett were together since Redfern survived a coup among his membership and Bennett was brought back from retirement after GOP chair Kevin DeWine was forced out.

And it didn’t take long for Redfern to start jabbing, as he talked about what he’s been doing.

“…bringing about a two-party system here in Ohio that frankly was lacking during most of the time that Bob was chairman of the Republican Party. I’ve spent some time getting to know Mr. Bennett, Chairman Bennett.

Bennett then interrupted by saying “history tends to repeat itself in politics.”

The chairmen spent most of their time before the Columbus Metropolitan Club talking national politics. Bennett was asked if he’s pleased with Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential nominee.

“Absolutely,” Bennett said. “I think he’s…he will appeal to not only the social conservatives and the fiscal conservatives and the Tea Party people within the party, but he’ll be able to reach out and attract a number of independents.”

And Redfern said he’s also happy with Barack Obama as a president and a candidate.

“The president’s leadership and the leadership of those who joined him in the Congress have meant that more Ohioans are working today than there were in January 2009 when his hand came off the Bible.

“There are more Ohioans today covered by health care when there were when the president’s hand came off the Bible. And I think we should all celebrate that.”

Bennett countered by saying there are more people unemployed in Ohio than when Obama took office.

The unemployment rate released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services was 8.8 percent in January 2009 compared to 7.5 percent now. But that’s just one area where the chairmen have different views and use competing facts.

For example – the bailout of the automakers.

Redfern said without it, thousands would be without jobs, while Bennett said the free market needs to control the economy, not the government. Redfern said Obama is responsible for the economy and the steady decrease in unemployment, but Bennett said Obama should also take credit for huge financial problems in California and Illinois.

Bennett said he doesn’t think social issues will drive the election – he thinks the economy will.

“It’s not going to be anything else. It’s not going to be the social issues – they’re important.

“They’re important as part of your coalition. But I think when it comes right down to it, people are going to ask themselves, ‘am I better off today than I was four years ago?’ And you look at the promises that were made by the president, and almost every one of them have been broken.”

But Redfern said he doesn’t mind discussing social issues , including marriage equality and access to birth control.

“We guarantee through health care policies the right for men to seek and acquire Viagra, but we don’t allow women access to contraception. And we are having this debate in 2012, and Bob is asked rhetorically, I hope, Mike, whether he’s pleased with his nominee. I am.”

The chairmen were also asked to say something nice about a major figure in the other party. Bennett credited President Obama with the killing of Osama bin Laden. Redfern praised Gov. John Kasich for proposing what Redfern called a massive tax increase on oil and gas drillers.

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