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Ohio congressional candidate Anthony Gonzalez says ‘no problem’ with debating opponent, Susan Moran Palmer

September 26, 2018

Ohio congressional candidate Anthony Gonzalez says ‘no problem’ with debating opponent, Susan Moran Palmer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Anthony Gonzalez, the former football star turned Republican Ohio congressional candidate, indicated Wednesday that if asked, he’d debate his Democratic opponent at the City Club of Cleveland.

“I would have no problem,” Gonzalez said when asked if he’d accept a debate invite from the City Club, the longstanding Cleveland civic organization. “I have no problems ever.”

The issue of debates came up when Gonzalez and Democrat Susan Moran Palmer, who both are running to represent Ohio’s 16th Congressional District, met Wednesday to interview for an editorial endorsement from cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. 

Palmer opened by criticizing Gonzalez for refusing to appear with her at a Tuesday event organized by the League of Women Voters, and mentioned attempts to organize an event with the City Club. Although future joint appearances are planned for October, Wednesday’s meeting was the first time Gonzalez and Palmer had appeared in the same room at the same time, Palmer said. 

“I think it’s vital in an open seat to have that kind of exchange with voters, where they have the opportunity to hear your views on issues, see you present and ask you questions,” Palmer said.

Gonzalez said he wasn’t aware of an invitation from the City Club. But he called pushing for debates a “political tactic” used by Democratic congressional candidates across the country.

“I understand it, but that’s what it is. I love debating the issues, I love debating these topics, and I’m pleased that we’re here,” he said.  

Congressional debates are a fading tradition for the City Club, largely because of Ohio’s uncompetitive congressional districts. The organization has struggled to convince favored candidates to face their opponents at the risk of providing them attention or making a mistake. Meanwhile, pushing for as many debates as possible is a common strategy of political underdogs for that very reason. True to form, Palmer has requested that Gonzalez, who hasn’t taken her up on the offer, hold a debate in each of the six counties that make up the 16th District.

Gonzalez and Palmer are vying to replace outgoing Wadsworth Republican Rep. Jim Renacci, who’s running for the Senate instead. Gonzalez is strongly favored to win the safely Republican district because of his strong fundraising advantage and endorsements. Palmer, who quit her sales job for a medical device company to focus on the congressional race, meanwhile has struggled to raise enough money to be competitive. The 16th District includes includes Wayne County, and portions of several others, stretching from rural suburbs east of Akron and up to Cuyahoga County’s western suburbs.

Cleveland.com has plans to use material from Wednesday’s interview for future election coverage focusing on the candidates’ positions on important issues. But in the meantime, here are some highlights:

Gonzalez a ‘hard no’ on Republican health care plan

When asked about health care, Gonzalez said he would not have supported the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare that failed to pass Congress last year.

“That would have just moved costs from one party to another, and would not have done anything to bring the costs of health care down,” he said. “I would have been a hard no, and a simple no.”

Gonzalez said allowing Medicare to negotiate prices on prescription drugs and promoting cost transparency are some of the steps that can be taken to reduce health care prices. He also said praised Medicaid expansion, a component of the federal law commonly known as Obamacare, although he said the program may need “some adjustments.” 

Palmer meanwhile said she doesn’t support “Medicare for All,” a wide-ranging term popular with many Democrats that usually refers to replacing private insurance with a government-run plan. But she called Obamacare a “good first step” toward reducing health care costs.

Palmer supports corporate tax cuts, ‘free trade’

Palmer took her own turn at flipping the political script. She described herself as a “free trade Democrat.” She called tariffs backed by Republican President Donald Trump “taxation on consumers.” (Gonzalez said he broadly supports them, although he thinks the world trade system needs to be overhauled entirely.) 

“It’s not hard to grow up in Youngstown and know that our industry was gutted long before free trade came about,” she said.

Palmer also criticized the Republican tax-cut plan as failing to increase wages for workers. Gonzalez pointed out that Palmer previously said she supports a reduction in the corporate tax rate, a central component of the GOP tax plan.

“Every single person has benefited from the tax cuts,” Gonzalez said. ”...The corporate tax cuts were absolutely essential to make our economy more competitive.”

Later, Palmer spelled out her position: “I do support funded tax cuts for corporations, but not unfunded tax cuts,” she said. “And that’s an important reason why. There is no money for this stuff.”

Palmer says she’s building a campaign operation

Since winning a crowded May primary, Palmer has struggled to attract attention to her race because of her poor fundraising. At the most recent filing deadline, July 15, she reported having just $72,000 in her campaign account after spending $72,600 to win the primary. The average winning congressional campaign in 2016 cost $1.5 million, according to the Huffington Post. And for comparison, Gonzalez reported having about $300,000 left after spending $1 million through the course of winning his own primary.

Asked about her campaign’s viability, Palmer said she has hired Lakewood Councilman Tom Bullock as her campaign manager, and recently added Diane Morgan, a Cleveland Democratic activist, as a field organizer. She also has hired local and Washington, D.C. based fundraisers, she said.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, said his team has been in place for more than a year. 

Gonzalez’s new house

Palmer, who’s lived in Westlake for decades, criticized Gonzalez as a carpetbagger. 

“He’s lived here for one year. A lot of people in my district find it incredibly insulting,” she said. “He hasn’t lived here for 11 years. You can learn a lot about a district in one year, but it’s shallow knowledge.”

Gonzalez grew up in Avon Lake and attended St. Ignatius in Cleveland and played football at Ohio State University. After his NFL career ended, he moved to California to get his MBA and then worked for a technology firm there. He moved back to Northeast Ohio in 2017, listing an address in the Crocker Park shopping center in elections filings. He holds a position with his family’s steel processing business in Cleveland.

But Gonzalez shared that he now owns a house in Rocky River. County property records show he bought the $475,000 house in July. 

“If I’m a carpetbagger, this is the most elaborate ruse in the history of the world,” he said. “I’m 34 years old. I’ve lived in Ohio for 30 years. I’ve lived in Northeast Ohio for 20 years... This is pure nonsense.”

From the Horseshoe to the House?

Gonzalez has featured his Ohio State football career prominently in his campaign ads. But Palmer said Gonzalez isn’t as well-known as one might think. When she explains who he is, she said it’s not received well by many, particularly by women.

“His main qualification is that he played football in this state,” she said. “He has three years of experience outside of the NFL. That is not someone I would hire professionally, much less vote for.”

Gonzalez said his football background is relevant experience, and that he’s proud of it.

“Professional football, college football, these are high-pressure situations,” he said. “You have all kinds of disagreements with coaches and players and what not, and you’re competing every day amongst each other but also other teams. And that’s more or less the same dynamic in Congress.” 

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