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Two Senate candidates set pre-primary debate

COLUMBUS (AP) — A Trump-aligned Republican and an underdog progressive Democrat are taking an unusually early step in their campaigns for the U.S. Senate: They’re holding a debate.

The odd match-up between Josh Mandel, a former GOP state treasurer, and Democrat Morgan Harper, a former consumer protection lawyer, is being held Thursday at North Columbus Baptist Church.

It comes before either party’s competitive primary has been decided, so it’s unclear what purpose the event may serve beyond a bit of publicity.

But the candidates said — in an, again, unconventional joint press release — that they want the event to be about ideas, and informing voters.

“I’m not afraid to take on anyone from either party on any issue,” Mandel said, adding he looks forward to debating Harper “to compare and contrast our visions for Ohio and where we stand on the issues.”

It was perhaps the kindest tone Mandel has taken toward a Democrat since launching his campaign last year. He has become known for a Twitter presence marked by vitriol, name-calling and false narratives.

Harper said she has been unsuccessful in getting Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan to debate her, so she will use the faceoff to show she’s “ready and willing to take on the Republicans in this race.”

She has portrayed herself, as a black woman, as having the ability to provide the diversity that Democratic and Ohio voters are seeking.

“The democratic process needs to be about engaging people, elevating the issues and making sure that voters know where each candidate stands,” she said.

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