Ohio Senate Debate Takes a Turn as One Candidate Spars with an Audience Member

Josh Mandel, Morgan Harper
Josh Mandel, Morgan Harper

Jay LaPrete/AP/Shutterstock; Jay LaPrete/AP/Shutterstock Morgan Harper (left), Josh Mandel

A debate between two candidates for Senate went awry on Monday, as one of them sparred with an audience member and insulted the other candidate's intelligence.

The event saw Republican Josh Mandel face off against Democrat Morgan Harper. But it quickly devolved as Mandel, whose provocative campaigning style has already made headlines, began arguing with an attendee.

As a debate moderator began asking Mandel, 44, about comments he had made calling Black Lives Matter supporters "thugs," an audience member began saying, "Mmhmm, put him out."

That's when Mandel — currently leading the race for the Republican nomination, per one poll, with many undecided voters — turned to the audience member, saying, "What do you mean, 'Put him out?' As in, with a bullet?"

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Mandel continued, gesturing with his hands, "I thought this was America where we could debate freely."

The audience member could then be heard telling the moderator not to "suck up" to Mandel, saying, "This is a Black community. He's calling my parents 'thugs.' "

Footage of the exchange was shared to Twitter by Axios reporter Tyler Buchanan.

Elsewhere in the debate, Mandel said of his rival Harper, 38: "She's like [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], only dumber," an insult that elicited groans from the audience.

Amid his third run for Senate in Ohio, Mandel has courted controversy, raising eyebrows for comments made about refugees, support for alt-right personalities and incendiary tweets about immigrants. He has also supported the evidence-free claim the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.

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The former Ohio state treasurer was in the spotlight last year when, after he argued that Afghans fleeing the Taliban should not be granted refuge in the United States, it was reported that Mandel is himself the grandson of refugees himself.

In September, he compared refugees to alligators on Twitter, writing, "To all those journalists out there cheering on the welcoming of Afghan 'refugees': You can keep feeding the alligators, but eventually you will be eaten as well."

Josh Mandel
Josh Mandel

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call Josh Mandel

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Two days later, Mandel tweeted that the refuges could bring "child brides" or "COVID" into America, later adding that "zero 'refugees' " should be welcomed in.

Online records discovered by CNN showed that Mandel is grandson of Holocaust survivors who escaped to the U.S.

Meanwhile, Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance — who is also running as a Republican in the Ohio Senate race against Mandel and Harper — opted not to participate in the debate.