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Brown, Mandel clash in Ohio debate

Ohio voters aren't just picking a president this November; they're also voting for the U.S. Senate, which could impact the balance of power in that chamber.

And this afternoon, Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and his Republican opponent, State Treasurer Josh Mandel, faced off in their first one-on-one debate at the Cleveland City Club.

The two candidates sparred over who can best represent the interests of the middle class and protect manufacturing jobs -– two issues traditionally important to Buckeye State voters.

Mandel stressed his fiscal responsibility as Ohio’s treasurer, admonished Brown for the downgrade of U.S. credit, and criticized the failure of the U.S. Senate for not passing a budget in three years. He repeatedly chastised Brown for his “record of failure,” casting him as part of the problem  and everything that is wrong with Washington, D.C.

Brown, for his part, has long since championed himself as a populist fighter for America’s working and middle class and touted his support for President Obama’s stimulus bill, the auto rescue, and his own bipartisan jobs bill in the Senate. 

Mandel opposed the auto bailout -- and Brown pounced.

“Josh, you would be so out of step with George Voinovich and Steve LaTourette,” the Democratic incumbent charged, referring to the moderate former senator and a current member of the Ohio delegation who supported the auto bailout. “To oppose the auto rescue just boggles my mind.”

Mandel said he opposed the auto rescue and still does because the bill strips some retirees of their pensions, and he took the opportunity to admonish Brown for his support TARP and financial regulatory reform as well.

“I'm not a bailout senator,” Mandel said. “He's the bailout Senator,” referring to Brown.

When a question from a member of the audience claimed that Brown had a supported a war on coal, Mandel pounced, reminding viewers that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) crossed party lines in the support of the coal industry when Brown had voted with the Democrats.

“At the end of the day, Sen. Manchin took on his party, but Sherrod Brown voted against coal producing manufacturing jobs,” Mandel said.

Mandel was questioned on the issues of trust and hypocrisy for fashioning himself as an independent who would not be beholden to party bosses but has already sacrificed his independence by signing Grover Norquist’s infamous tax pledge. 

“Signing a pledge to a fat-cat lobbyist like Grover Norquist is essentially giving away your right to think,” Brown responded. 

Mandel has also faced criticism for hiring campaign workers to work in the state Treasurer’s office, after he had ridiculed Brown for doing the same in his Senate office. 

When pressed Mandel said he put his employees up against Brown’s any day. 

“It’s well established that Josh Mandel doesn’t show up to do the job he was entrusted to do, you can’t trust him to hire people to run his office, and most importantly to all the newspapers who endorsed me but didn’t endorse me in 2006, you can’t trust him to fight for the middle class,” Brown said.

Brown and Mandel meet again on Thursday October 18, as well as on Oct. 25, when NBC's Chuck Todd moderates the final Brown-vs.-Mandel debate.