The two frontrunners in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Ohio got into a heated exchange with one another at a debate Friday evening, eventually having to be separated from one another, in a moment that quickly went viral.
The exchange, between former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel and businessman Mike Gibbons, happened at a primary debate sponsored by conservative nonprofit FreedomWorks. Politico reporter Natalie Allison posted a video of the exchange to Twitter. As of the publishing of this piece, the video has amassed 1.8 million views in less than 24 hours.
The row between the two candidates arose over an argument about Gibbons’ alleged business dealings in China. About half an hour into the debate, Mandel called out Gibbons for his alleged role in offshoring Ohio jobs to China. Mandel claimed that Gibbons sold a company called “Perfect Fit” to a Chinese company called Shanghai Shenda. He also claimed that Gibbons owned stock in “Chinese Petro.”
Gibbons responded to Mandel’s claims, saying that he did not know where the claim about “Perfect Fit” came from because he was not aware of the deal, and that he wasn’t sure what “Chinese Petro [had] to do with anything.” Mandel interjected, claiming that Gibbons had filed with the FEC, and “made millions off it.” Gibbons fired back that he did not personally buy the stock, and did not make millions off his investment.
Mandel continued to press Gibbons on his alleged Chinese dealings. Gibbons attempted to respond, but Mandel abruptly stood up and approached Gibbons. “You’ve never been in the private sector in your entire life … you don’t know squat,” Gibbons said as Mandel stood over him. “I’ve worked, sir,” Mandel fired back, getting in Gibbons’ face and pointing at him. “Two tours in Iraq; don’t tell me I haven’t worked.”
Moderator Brandon Boxer stepped up to intervene and got Mandel to sit down, as fellow candidates J.D. Vance, Matt Dolan, and Jane Timken looked on awkwardly — but Gibbons continued, and Mandel stood up and again stepped into Gibbons’ face.
“Back off, buddy, or you’re going to end up…” Gibbons said.
“You back off,” Mandel responded.
“Never that’ll happen, never,” Gibbons laughed.
“Watch,” Mandel responded.
Gibbons continued to press Mandel. “You’re dealing with the wrong dude,” he said.
“You’re dealing with the wrong [guy],” Mandel shot back. “You watch what happens.”
One of the two men called the other a “p****” during the exchange. Both candidates denied it, but video tweeted by Allison seemed to indicate it was Gibbons who lobbed the insult at Mandel.
Both Gibbons and Mandel campaigns say it wasn’t their guy who called the other “pussy” over the mic. Here’s a clearer video, where it looks like it could be Gibbons. A couple people in the room last night said it was Mandel. A real whodunit of the 2022 midterms. pic.twitter.com/D2usfDqoXe
— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) March 19, 2022
At that point, Boxer managed to separate the two, while Vance urged the two to sit down. Vance, who like Mandel served in the Marine Corps, also condemned Mandel for his behavior, and the “disgraceful” way he invoked his service in the Marines during the exchange.
Gibbons and Mandel are the front-runners in the race to fill the seat of retiring incumbent Senator Rob Portman. The RealClearPolitics average shows Gibbons with a slight lead over Mandel, 20.0% to 18.7%. Vance stands in 3rd place with 11.0%, while Timken is in 4th with 8.3% and Dolan is in 5th with 7.7%. A straw poll after the debate showed that attendees supported Vance by a substantial margin, while Timken came in second, Gibbons in third, Dolan in fourth, and Mandel in last place.