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2018 was a big election year in Ohio. Republicans held onto all five statewide executive offices including governor and super majorities in both the Ohio House and Senate. But there were a few bright spots for Democrats, among them the reelection of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and the election of two Democrats to the Ohio Supreme Court.With election 2018 over, the focus now shifts to governing. Stay connected with the latest on politics, policies and people making the decisions at all levels affecting your lives.

First and Only 7th District Debate Centered Around Health Care, Pittsburgh Shootings

Democrat Ken Harbaugh (L) and Republican Bob Gibbs at their only debate one week before election day.

At the only debate in Ohio’s 7th Congressional District race, the candidates collided on the expected issues: health care, tax cuts and national security. But the killing of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last week came up as well.

More than 500 people attended the hour-long debate at Ashland University last night between Republican Congressman Bob Gibbs and his Democratic challenger, Ken Harbaugh. Harbaugh clearly had the advantage the number of supporters, but Gibbs’ faction was the most vocal — until his closing. Gibbs told voters to ask themselves if they’re better off than they were two years ago, and began rattling off a list that focused largely on the economy.

Then he got to safety.

photo of Bob Gibbs
Bob Gibbs

“America is safer,” he asserted, and the audience began booing. That’s when Harbaugh interjected with a single-word reference to the weekend’s shootings.


Gibbs fell briefly silent, and Harbaugh’s supporters grew more vocal. Then Gibbs warned Harbaugh, “Keep your supporters in line here.”

In his opening statement — as he has throughout much of the campaign — Harbaugh accused Gibbs of repeatedly voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, eliminating coverage for pre-existing conditions. His campaign provided reporters with the list of 13 of Gibbs’ votes, including a vote last year that fell just a few votes short in the Senate. Gibbs maintained that a Republican replacement for what he called the Affordable Care Act “disaster” would protect pre-existing conditions and make insurance more affordable through competition.

Harbaugh responded by quoting President Trump’s characterization of the House Republican plan as “mean.”

The full debate

Economic growth
The two also sparred over taxes, which Gibbs said has spurred phenomenal economic growth and Harbaugh said has sharply escalated the debt. He also claimed that Republicans will ultimately cut Social Security and Medicare to pay for the tax cuts.

Who's backing who
Both also sparred over who is supporting their campaigns. Gibbs painted Harbaugh — who has outraised him — as a stealth candidate of coastal Democratic elites.

“Liberals are trying to buy this House seat in America’s heartland and force their liberal agenda on all of us. Let’s not let this scam happen to us.

Credit WKSU
Ken Harbaugh

Harbaugh accused Gibbs of being a creature of “corporate paymasters,” and pressed Gibbs on why he’s accepted  contributions from a PAC affiliated with one of the chief distributors of opioids nationally.

“Cardinal Healthcare has been sued by Mike DeWine for its role in creating the opioid epidemic, the first man-made epidemic in human history, and our congressman continues to take their money.”

Defining the 7th
The 7th District is a largely rural slice of Northeast and Central Ohio, stretching from near Lake Erie through Canton south to Coshocton.

M.L. Schultze is a freelance journalist. She spent 25 years at The Repository in Canton where she was managing editor for nearly a decade, then served as WKSU's news director and digital editor until her retirement.