A Friday debate between Republican Senate candidates in Ohio intensified primary rivalries as candidates exchanged jabs and confronted each other over their political bona fides.
Prior to the event, candidate Mike Gibbons, who is currently leading in the polls, implied that he was cautiously optimistic about his current lead over other candidates. He told TheBlaze, "You never know until Election Day, but we feel confident."
The event, sponsored by FreedomWorks, had more than 900 RSVPs, according to event staffers, and was intense from the outset as candidate Josh Mandel used his introductory remarks to attack Mike Gibbons's alleged business dealings with China.
The evening's first question — regarding the U.S.'s relationship with Russia and China — brought tensions to a boiling point as Mandel once again used his permitted time to speak to criticize Gibbons for doing business with China.
Gibbons's responded to Mandel by criticizing him for never having worked in the private sector.
"You may not understand this," Gibbons said, "Because you've never been in the private sector in your entire life."
Mandel responded by standing up and getting in Gibbons's face to tout his time in the military, saying: "I understand fully, I've worked. Two tours in Iraq, don't tell me I haven't worked."
The Gibbons campaign released a statement about the confrontation that said, "Josh Mandel is unhinged, unfit and flailing – because he's losing. He is only a professional at one thing: running for office. He is hellbent on lying because he is failing."
It continued, "We can't leave this race to child-like candidates. We need an adult in the room, and Josh Mandel has proven that he is not capable of being that for Ohioans."
After the brief kerfuffle, candidate JD Vance criticized Mandel for using his military service as a political credential.
Vance said, "I think the way you use the U.S. Marine Corps, Josh, is disgraceful."
Whereas the other candidates worked to propose policy solutions to the questions they were posed, Mandel appeared more focused on reducing Gibbons's lead in the polls by attacking his business record.
His attacks on Gibbons continued throughout the night as he appeared to be reading off a fact sheet containing information on Gibbons's financial dealings and FEC filings.
However, Mandel's strategy and Gibbons's subsequent rebuttals favored neither candidate as FreedomWorks's official post-debate straw poll overwhelmingly favored JD Vance's performance.
Vance believes that the poll's results are due to him focusing on issues that actually affect the average Ohio voter.
He said, "While others made a mockery of themselves with their phony tough guy antics, I focused on engaging with the voters, honing in on the real problems that Ohioans face and providing true solutions that may make life better for working- and middle-class Americans. This clearly resonated with the crowd, and I am proud to have earned this kind of support from the attendees."