The debate begins at 7 p.m. in the upper level of Ashland University’s Myers Convocation Center, 638 Jefferson St. Door open at 6:30 p.m. There is no charge to attend.
The event is the culmination of a several months-long push by voters to get the reluctant incumbent to agree to even a single debate, according to Harbaugh supporters.
“This is Democracy 101,” said Harbaugh. “I am glad to see that Congressman Gibbs finally followed our lead here. Voters are right to advocate for and even demand an opportunity to hear from their candidates, consider the issues that matter most to them, and make an informed choice this November.”
This debate will be the only time the two candidates meet to discuss the issues before a live audience.
Gibbs, a longtime Holmes County farmer and entrepreneur and former president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, has been in Congress since 2011, most of that time (since 2013) representing the redrawn 7th District.
The district includes southern Huron County and snakes through 10 north-central Ohio counties, including Canton to the east, Coshocton to the south and Huron to the west, with a stovepipe stretching up through part of Medina County to Avon and North Ridgeville in Lorain County. The U.S. Census calculates that 93 percent of the district's land area is rural — the notable exceptions being suburban areas near Cleveland.
In the 2016 elections, Donald Trump won the district by 29.6 points, more than three times his statewide margin, the Associated Press reports.
Supporters of the 64-year-old Gibbs say he is a nice guy who understands Ohio farm country and has won our endorsement before.
Opposers cite Gibbs’ support of Trump's trade, health care and immigration policies that are hurting and will continue to hurt district constituents, including soybean and hog farmers as they lose overseas markets and face new costs.
Harbaugh is a 44-year-old ex-Navy pilot with a Yale Law School degree who moved to Chagrin Falls in 2009 with his spouse, who is from Medina, and then to Avon, in the 7th District, two years ago.
Harbaugh’s strengths, according to his supporters, include his passion about protecting pre-existing conditions coverage and he knows that Congress needs more veterans and others with experience in conflict zones. Harbaugh pledges to spend more time than the incumbent meeting with constituent.
But his campaign planks are noticeably thin, opposers say. Harbaugh reportedly tried to play semantic games during a Plain Dealer endorsement interview about his family moves, to minimize the appearance of carpetbagging.
One data point that can't be disputed, however, is the overwhelming amount of Harbaugh's campaign dollars coming from out-of-state. According to the Open Secrets website, 87.5 percent of Harbaugh's nearly $1.8 million in campaign contributions this year has come from out-of-state. That compares with 14.4 percent (or about $42,000) for Gibbs, who has raised far less money. The top three zip codes for Harbaugh donors were all in Manhattan; for Gibbs, they were in Canton, Millersburg and Mount Vernon, Ohio.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Plain Dealer, Cleveland (TNS) contributed to this story.