MARTINS FERRY — There was emphatic agreement in Martins Ferry on Tuesday: Years of Republican rule have seriously damaged Ohio, and much needs to be done to fix it.

It was the first debate among Democrats hoping to be governor, and the four declared candidates focused on jobs, education and some more on jobs.

Each of them — state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton and former state Rep. Connie Pillich — is struggling to stand out from the field. Each also must raise his or her profile against a Republican field that consists of three statewide officeholders and a congressman.

But Tuesday's debate, the first of six in advance of the March primary, was mostly devoted to describing what a hash of things Republicans have made, particularly in eastern Ohio, plagued by shuttered steel mills, high unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and a festering opioid crisis. Amid the misery, Donald Trump swept the region in November, winning Belmont County, home to Martins Ferry, with 68 percent of the presidential vote.

"Democrats need to reclaim our status as the party of workers," Pillich said, describing the decline in steel, manufacturing and other industries that traditially have made Ohio a powerhouse.

Whaley slammed Republican Gov. John Kasich, who, facing a term limit as governor, has been spending a lot of time touring the country, possibly in advance of a 2020 bid for president.

"His Ohio miracle is really the Ohio mirage," she said. "The Statehouse crowd thinks that if they keep cutting taxes on the wealthy, towns like Martins Ferry will have magical roads."

Schiavoni attacked a small-business tax cut that is supported by Kasich and other Statehouse Republicans. It has been criticized as benefiting wealthy Ohioans — including some lawmakers — without creating the promised jobs.

"We have an LLC loophole right now," Schiavoni said, referring to the law that exempts the first $250,000 of certain income from the state tax and cuts the tax on income above that by 40 percent.

Noting that the cut is costing the state $1 billion in lost revenue each year, Schiavoni urged that the money instead be spent on training centers for workers, easing student debt and other causes.

"You do those things, and you reinvest in your communities," he said.

Sutton described a "rigged system" in which Republicans promise tax cuts overwhelmingly weighted toward the wealthy and then cut funds for local government, forcing increases in local taxes.

"The system is crushing working- and middle-class families, and all the while, those at the top are reaping the rewards," she said.

All the candidates attacked a charter-school system in Ohio that they said has not been held to the same standards as traditional public schools while drawing money away from them.

"We've got to stop this profit-making scheme," Pillich said of for-profit charter schools, some of which are operated by GOP campaign contributors.

"What we have right now is straight-up crony capitalism," Whaley said, referring to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online school that is being forced by the state to repay funds for instructional hours it can't document.

She also took a shot at Republican Auditor Dave Yost, a candidate for attorney general who this year went after ECOT funding after earlier supporting the school and speaking at its graduations.

"I'm just amazed that Auditor Yost has woken up and decided this is an issue," she said.

Similarly, Pillich went after Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican gubernatorial candidate who this year sued drugmakers, alleging that they recklessly pushed doctors and pharmacists to overprescribe and oversupply opioids, kicking off a crisis that years later continues to bedevil the state.

"It's too little, and it's a lot too late," Pillich said. DeWine "presided over the eruption of the drug crisis."

Even though the Democrats spent the bulk of the evening agreeing that Republican control has left the state a lot worse off, they did try to distinguish themselves from their opponents.

Schiavoni described himself as a fighter who knows the players in the Statehouse, so he knows how to get things done.

Whaley touted her tenure as mayor, where she has implemented a pre-kindergarten program and sued drugmakers on behalf of a city that has been hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis.

Pillich, of Montgomery, pointed out that she was the only candidate to win in a Republican district and that she did it three times.

And Sutton, of Copley outside Akron, said that when she was in Congress, she shepherded through the "cash-for-clunkers" program at the height of the Great Recession. She credited it with creating much-needed jobs.

The Republican candidates, DeWine, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Secretary of State Jon Husted and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, will get a chance to return fire at the Democrats at a forum near Westerville on Oct. 8.