MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich cited his tough stance on gun control to appeal to young voters, while former federal consumer protection chief Richard Cordray said he had taken on powerful financial institutions, as Democratic hopefuls in the race for governor emphasized their differences Tuesday night ahead of the May 8 primary.
The four leading Democratic candidates squared off at Miami University's Middletown regional campus in their last scheduled debate.
"I was an aggressive consumer watchdog," said Cordray, emphasizing that he stood up to powerful interests. He also pointed to his support from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts Democrat will campaign with Cordray on Friday in Cincinnati and Columbus, where they will speak to Ohio State University students.
Kucinich staked his claim to young voters, saying he has taken the lead for creating a safer state for them with his push for a statewide ban on assault-style weapons.
"Young people of Ohio, I'm with you; I hear your concerns," said Kucinich. The issue of guns has received more attention since the deadly school shooting in Florida as students have called for stricter gun laws.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, at 38 the youngest of the four candidates, said he would be a fighter with fresh approaches.
"We need somebody different to lead this state," Schiavoni said.
Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O'Neill called for legalizing marijuana and building more state mental health hospitals, both moves that he said would help with the state's opioid crisis.
"We need more hospitals and less prisons," O'Neill said.
Kucinich in his opening statement pledged to go after "a cesspool of corruption" in Columbus. During the debate, news surfaced that Republican Cliff Rosenberger would resign as Ohio's House speaker amid talk of an FBI investigation into his activities. Rosenberger said he believed he had been ethical and lawful as speaker, but that Ohioans deserved their leaders' "full and undivided attention."
After the debate, Kucinich called the Rosenberger matter "just the tip of the iceberg of a much broader problem in Columbus."
Schiavoni said it was another example of "the disconnect between the people at home and the people in the Statehouse." He said there needs to be "a thorough investigation" of Rosenberger.
On the Republican side, Attorney General Mike DeWine is seeking the party's nomination against Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. Second-term Republican Gov. John Kasich is term-limited.