Ohio governor candidates square off in 1st debate

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican rival John Kasich accused each other in their first debate Tuesday of failing to have the best interests of Ohioans at heart.

Kasich, a former congressman and Lehman Brothers managing director, said Strickland has failed to support policies that have attracted business to the state and forced successful entrepreneurs to leave to "escape punishment."

Strickland, who's led the state since 2007, blamed Kasich and his "buddies on Wall Street" for espousing policies that have hurt the state and outsourced jobs.

The debate is one of two that will be held during the race. It took place at COSI Columbus and wasn't televised as expected in Cleveland. The second meeting will be in Toledo.

Strickland, a once-popular politician now behind in the polls, said he has supported the tax cuts and smaller government that Kasich says is needed. He said Ohio now has the fewest number of government workers per capita in the nation because of government cuts and efficiencies he's supported and the most small business-friendly tax structure in the Midwest.

"Congressman, I've done what you and your party only talk about doing," Strickland said.

Kasich said Strickland's decision to suspend the final year of a planned income tax cut to balance the state budget qualifies as a tax increase.

He said Lehman Brothers hired him because of his creativity and ingenuity, offering him a six-figure salary despite his lack of investment banking experience.

"I think when they looked and saw that I was the chief architect of the balanced budget and that I did a lot of things in Congress, they thought I had the potential," he said.

Strickland accused Kasich of trading on his experience in Congress to get the job. He said Kasich spoke publicly as a lawmaker about his support for privatizing Social Security, a move that Wall Street interests favored.

Despite their rivalry, the two men exchanged a mid-debate handshake and insisted they personally like each other - then went back to their attacks.

Strickland said he and Kasich disagreed while in Congress over the North American Free Trade Agreement and other policies that led to American jobs - many of them in Ohio - being outsourced to other countries.

Strickland said he opposed those policies: "I'm not an outsourcer."

Kasich said 380,000 jobs have been lost in Ohio since Strickland took the helm and most of them haven't gone overseas but to other states.

Former President Bill Clinton stumped for Strickland in Cincinnati and Columbus on Tuesday and said that Ohioans are right to feel angry about the weak U.S. economy but shouldn't let that cloud their judgment when voting in November.

He put the blame for the economy on Republican policies before Strickland took office in 2007 and said Strickland has laid the foundation for a recovery in Ohio with strong economic development programs and deserves to be re-elected to a second term.

Kasich accused the Democrats of "the politics of distraction" regarding his Wall Street record. He said Strickland is trying to turn the public's attention from job losses.

"It's been almost a full year of innuendoes and smears. You know why?" Kasich said. "If you can't sell your own record, you attack the other guy."

Strickland said Ohioans deserve to see what Kasich earned during his entire tenure at Lehman. He noted that he and other candidates for governor have made their salaries available, though GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell declined to do so in 2006.

Kasich made available his 2008 tax filing earlier this year, showing he made nearly $590,000 in salary and bonuses as a Lehman Brothers managing director in 2008 before the banking giant collapsed later that year.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)