Jim Renacci and Sherrod Brown traded shots over health care, the auto bailout and an old scandal during separate editorial board meetings recently.
Renacci, a Republican congressman from Wadsworth, is challenging Brown, an 11-year-plus incumbent.
A member of the House since 2011 who is seeking an additional six years in the Senate, Renacci, 59, continues to decry his foes as "career politicians." He said that it was the 2008-2009 government-run bailout of General Motors and Chrysler that drove him into the political game. He'd bought and turned around a troubled Wadsworth GM dealership when the economy melted down in 2008.
"Then, boom. June of 2009 hit and the federal government takes over General Motors," Renacci said adding that as part of the restructuring, his and many other dealerships would be closed. "You just don't shutter dealerships."
With the country on the brink of economic cataclysm, and two of the country's Big Three automakers tumbling into bankruptcy, the Barack Obama administration stepped in. It ordered the closure of some manufacturing plants, greater utilization of others and it trimmed the companies' dealer networks. As the companies lost market share, it didn't make sense to have the same number of dealers, undercutting each other in pursuit of a shrinking part of the American car business, the thinking went.
To Renacci, that was plain wrong.
"I do think the auto industry is important," he said. "I think bankruptcies are bankruptcies and they should have been handled differently. I always felt that the bankruptcies should be handled as a normal bankruptcy. This is a bankruptcy that actually cost Ohioans 126 dealerships and over 6,000 jobs."
Brown — and some economists — contend that handling the crisis the way Renacci suggests would have cost Ohio tens of thousands of jobs.
"I think that’s revisionist history," Brown said of Renacci's version of the auto bailout. "Look where the auto industry is now. It’s very profitable. It’s vibrant in this state."
The two hold similarly opposed views when it comes to health care.
Brown, who helped develop parts of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, said Obamacare provides protections so that insurers can't drop people with pre-existing health conditions. He also touts Ohio's Medicaid expansion, which was shepherded by Republican Gov. John Kasich and covers almost 700,000 Ohioans.
Renacci voted repeatedly during the Obama presidency to repeal the Affordable Care Act and last year he voted for the unsuccessful American Health Care Act, which would have allowed insurers to stop covering certain services.
Brown said that he tries not to personalize political disagreements, but during the vote "it was really hard because I see a bunch of privileged members of Congress in the House and Senate trying to take health insurance away from people who are making $8 and $12 and $15 an hour while they’re lucky enough to have taxpayers pay for their insurance."
Renacci said he's for protecting the social safety net and for protecting people with pre-existing conditions. However, he said, the Affordable Care Act is too expensive for working people and the Medicaid expansion is unsustainable. Instead, he says he would turn Medicaid and other funds back to the states in the form of block grants.
"We've got to get competition into the mix," he said.
A scandal from Renacci's early days in Congress is becoming an issue in 2018, with news in June that the man at the heart of it, convicted felon Ben Suarez, had developed a strategy to bring down both Brown and the man who prosecuted the Canton businessman, former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach, now the Democratic nominee for Ohio attorney general.
Suarez served more than a year in prison for witness tampering after a probe of campaign contributions in which he, his family and his employees gave Renacci $100,000. During the same period, Renacci wrote a letter on Suarez's behalf to Kasich, asking the governor's help in several California prosecutions of Suarez's company.
Renacci's campaign said he and Suarez had met only twice, but in July, the Dayton Daily News reported that Renacci and Suarez exchanged more than 40 phone calls between 2010 and 2012.
"Renacci apparently didn’t tell the truth about his relationship, so that makes it an issue." Brown said. "I think he has to explain to you and the public what his relationship is and why he didn’t tell the truth about the phone calls."
For Renacci, the issue was "finalized" in 2012, but "career politician Sherrod Brown loves to bring it up because he doesn’t have anything to talk about."
So what was Renacci's relationship with Suarez and what were all those calls about?
"These are issues that people wanted to debate," Renacci said. "Look at the phone calls. I mean, if you call a two-second disconnect where we never talk a phone call, God bless you. But again, these were histories; this is stuff that was debated in 2012. It’s history. I gave the money back. He was a constituent of mine and I gave the money back. I wish more career politicians would do that. There was a problem. I gave the money back."