Major conservative group organizing September debate that would be first among 2018 Ohio Republican gubernatorial candidates

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The state chapter of a major conservative advocacy group with close ties to the Koch brothers is working to schedule the first candidate debate of the 2018 Ohio governor’s race.

The Republican candidate debate, organized by the Ohio chapter of Americans for Prosperity, is slated for 7 p.m. on Sept. 5 at The Riffe Center in downtown Columbus, according to a draft debate packet sent to the candidates late last week and obtained by

The event is to be live-streamed by AFP and the affiliates of the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which has committed to be a partner in the event. The packet describes two confirmed panelists — Robert Alt, director of the Buckeye Institute, a conservative Columbus think tank, and Bob Kendrick, an anchor with WSYX, a Columbus TV station owned by Sinclair. It also says public tickets are to go on sale Wednesday. The debate would focus exclusively on economic and education issues — taxes and spending, health care, jobs and the economy – and would be moderated by Micah Derry, director of AFP Ohio. 

So AFP has a time, date, venue, a broadcast partner and panelists lined up. All it needs is final commitments from the candidates themselves. Official invitations went out Monday afternoon, and give the candidates until 5 p.m. on July 24 to say whether they will participate.

The Republican candidates are Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Lt. Gov Mary Taylor.

The primary election will be held on May 8. Current Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, is barred by term limits from running for re-election. Democrats who have said they are running include former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, of Summit County, Youngstown-area State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, former State Rep. Connie Pillich of the Cincinatti area and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

Americans for Prosperity is one of the flagship organizations of the political network seeded by Charles and David Koch, the conservative, libertarian billionaire industrialists. Issues AFP has advocated for in Ohio recently include lobbying in favor of the state budget provision — inserted by GOP state lawmakers and vetoed by Kasich — that would have frozen the expansion of Medicaid eligibility within the state.

AFP is technically a charitable organization and barred by federal law from making campaign contributions or endorsing specific candidates. But hosting the debate is a way it can influence the GOP primary by elevating and framing issues it deems to be important.